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The Foreword

Steelers are going to the 2024 NFL Playoffs; Season Recap and Playoff Insight

Image courtesy of @NFL on instagram
Image courtesy of @NFL on instagram

They’ve done it again… The Pittsburgh Steelers, despite having a 14% chance of making the playoffs (according to the New York Times Playoff simulation) just one week ago, managed to make the playoffs. The Steelers finish the season with a 10-7 record, continuing Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s incredible career of 17 years without having a single losing season. The Steelers are set to play the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo on Sunday, January 14th, at 1 P.M. on CBS. 

The Steelers were expected to do very well at the beginning of the season. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett looked to lead the young team to success. Despite the Steelers starting the season 6-3, many fans soon became disappointed in the team’s offense as Kenny Pickett struggled to get even one touchdown per game. After the Week 12 loss to the Cleveland Browns’ 3rd string quarterback, offensive coordinator Matt Canada was fired—an action that fans thought to be long overdue. In the very next game against the Bengals, the Steelers won, finally reaching the 400-yard threshold that hadn’t been reached since week 2 of the 2020 season. 

There was finally hope for the Steelers. At 7-4, they headed into a stretch against the Cardinals, Patriots, and Colts; 3 seemingly easy wins. However, these games proved to be not as easy as fans and players might have expected. In the first quarter against the 2-10 Cardinals, Pickett injured his ankle, requiring surgery and sidelining him for 4-6 weeks. Backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky stepped into Pickett’s role, and his poorly performed game ended in a 24-10 loss. Following the loss to the Cardinals, Trubisky struggled against the 2-10 Patriots, in a game the Steelers ultimately lost. Against Indianapolis the following week, the Steelers got off to a 13-0 lead thanks to a blocked punt recovered at the 1-yard line, however, yet again, Trubisky did not find success, leading the Steelers to their third straight loss and bringing them to a 7-7 record with just a 12% chance of making the playoffs according to the New York Times, and very slim hope.

The Steelers benched Trubisky for Mason Rudolph, a longtime Steeler backup playing under quarterback legend Ben Roethlisberger. Rudolph has never made a significant impact in his career but has proved he knows the team and knows the game. Entering Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Rudolph came in with a boom. On his first throw, he completed an 86-yard touchdown to George Pickens. He did not look back as he finished the game with 290 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, and led the Steelers to a 34-11 win. In his very next game in Seattle, his magic was still there. The Steelers looked like a whole new team, with Rudolph and WR George Pickens leading the way. The Steelers defeated Seattle 30-24, boosting their record to 9-7. The Steelers had not scored 30+ points all year. Rudolph did it twice, in back-to-back weeks, and the Steelers were gaining momentum. 

Unfortunately, the Steelers still only had a slim chance of making the playoffs. A win against 13-3 Baltimore in week 18 alone wouldn’t do the job. They would also need wins from Tennessee or Miami, both of whom were underdogs. The previous week, the Ravens had clinched the #1 seed, allowing them to rest their starters against the Steelers, including star Quarterback Lamar Jackson, which was some great news for Pittsburgh. 

The Steelers ultimately pulled out an ugly 17-10 win against Baltimore in the pouring rain, thanks yet again to Mason Rudolph’s heroics. A 71-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson to start the fourth quarter gave the Steelers a late 7-point lead that they never looked back on. 

The Steelers inched up to a 65% chance of making the playoffs after the win, however, they still needed help from Tennessee and Miami. The following morning, the Tennessee Titans were set to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game in which the Titans had nothing to lose and the Jaguars had everything to lose. The Titans embarrassingly defeated the Jaguars 28-20, with help from former Steeler Terrell Edmunds, who had an interception and the game-winning defensive stop, sending the Steelers to the playoffs for the first time since 2021.

Image posted by the Steelers’ Instagram account, a meme showing Steeler fans cheering for the Dolphins and Titans.

Despite back-to-back losses to 2-10 teams, an injury to their starter quarterback, and everything else that went against them, the Steelers made the playoffs, and are looking to ride the momentum and make a deep playoff run as the #7 seed. They take on the #2 seeded Buffalo Bills, who defeated powerhouse Miami Dolphins in week 18 to clinch the AFC East division. 

Buffalo is a 10-point betting favorite, according to FanDuel, and many people expect Pittsburgh to get blown out. 

The Steelers playoff run will be without star linebacker TJ Watt, who sprained his MCL against Baltimore. Additionally, Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is questionable to return after battling injury all year. However, Safety Damontae Kazee is set to return from a 3-game suspension which is good news for the injury-plagued Steelers defense, with Elandon Roberts and Trenton Thompson also questionable to return for the playoff game. On Buffalo’s side, wide receiver Gabe Davis and Cornerback Rasul Douglas have both been ruled out. 

However, if Coach Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers have taught us anything, it is to never count out Pittsburgh. Catch the game against Buffalo on Sunday, January 14th, at 1 PM on CBS. 

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