After their thrilling Week One win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Cam Heyward jokingly called his team “zombies,” ambling bodies that don’t know how to die.
What was a joke might be reality. After a 2-6 and 3-7 starts to the season, the Steelers have won two straight and three of their last four, pushing themselves to 5-7 and on the playoff conversation fringe. While there’s still plenty of work to do and attitudes unchanging, there’s a different feeling in the Steelers’ locker room. Pat Freiermuth sure feels the difference, starting with head coach Mike Tomlin.
“[Tomlin’s] the same every single, every single week, every single day,” Freiermuth said via Steelers.com. “But you can tell there’s definitely a heightened sense of urgency.”
As Tomlin described yesterday, December is where the road gets narrow. For the Steelers, they’re on Bolivia’s Death Road with zero margin for error. But they have a shot and a shot is all that matters.
For all of Tomlin’s warts and critiques, he’s always found a way to dig deep and pull the Steelers out of the ditch. An 0-4 start in 2013 ended in an 8-8 campaign. 1-3 over the first month last year but a second half turnaround produced a winning season and snuck Pittsburgh into the playoffs. And after their opening win this year, a complete falloff that had the Steelers dead in the water.
With a 3-7 start, only one team in NFL history – the 2020 Washington Commanders – has made the playoffs from that starting place. Pittsburgh’s odds still remain long, under 10% according to the betting markets, but the schedule ahead of them creates a path. They’ll play a Baltimore Ravens’ team this weekend that’s likely to be without Lamar Jackson. After that are the woeful Carolina Panthers followed by the middling Las Vegas Raiders with two AFC North games to end the season against Baltimore and the Cleveland Browns.
So is it possible? Yeah, it’s possible. If Pittsburgh finishes the year 4-1 and ends up 9-8, they’d have a chance to make the Wild Card spot. Their odds in that scenario are probably still low, potentially losing out on tiebreakers to the likes of Cleveland and New England but the Steelers are scrappy. They are zombies. Cut off their arm, their leg, whatever you want to do, they’ll keep slowly walking their way towards the finish line. The Ravens will go for the head this weekend and try to end the Steelers’ season.