Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gameday: Cleveland Browns

Heinz Field
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What to Watch For

1. Who Will Watch a Meaningless Game?

As Steelers fans, we have been fortunate. The Steelers have been in playoff contention for most of the past decade. In the last ten years they have only posted one season with a record below .500, which was the 6-10 year of 2003 that enabled them to draft Ben Roethlisberger in the spring of 2004. Even in that abysmal year, the Steelers still had an outside opportunity to win the division entering Week 15. After a loss in Week 15 to a terrible Jets team, the Steelers were eliminated from playoff contention and played two meaningless games against San Diego and Baltimore. In 2006, Bill Cowher lost his penultimate game to Baltimore, eliminating the Steelers from playoff contention and dropping their record to 7-8. The Steelers rallied for Cowher and beat Cincinnati in overtime to end the 2006 season. That was the last time the Steelers played a regular season game in which they were already eliminated from playoff contention. That was six years ago. In the last ten years we have only played 3 meaningless games. That is quite the feat for any franchise. Complain all you want about the issues the Steelers have this season, but don't forget how blessed we are as fans to be able to watch a contender year in and year out.

2. Who Will Play?

The Steelers made a series of personnel moves this week, placing Ike Taylor, Heath Miller, Mike Adams, Curtis Brown and Mike Wallace on the Injured Reserve list. On the other side, the Browns have ruled out quarterbacks Brandon Weedon and Colt McCoy as well as running back Trent Richardson. Two teams will play on Sunday at Heinz Field, but both teams will be a shell of their former selves as there is literally nothing to play for. As much as it pains me to say it, this may resemble more of an exhibition game than a regular season game.

3. Who Will Be Back?

For the second year in a row, the Steelers are staring down a hellacious salary cap situation entering next year. Last offseason, the team made some moves than angered many fans by cutting veterans such as Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith. This offseason, the team will face a similar dilemma and with aging players like James Harrison slated to make over $6 million next season, this could be the last game in black and gold for a host of players, including Harrison, Max Starks, Rashard Mendenhall, Casey Hampton, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, and Larry Foote. Other guys with questionable futures include Mike Wallace and Willie Colon, who are both on the Injured Reserve list.

4. Game Theory

Game Theory is the study in mathematics of outcomes that have varying degrees of positive impacts on one's future. The Steelers enter Week 17 in an interesting situation. If the season ended right now, they would have the 14th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Due to Strength of Schedule, the Steelers would currently pick ahead of the two other 7-8 teams (Miami and New Orleans). If the Steelers, Dolphins and Saints end the season with the same record, the Steelers will pick ahead of them. The intriguing part of the scenario enters in when you consider that the Steelers could potentially pick ahead of three more teams as well. If the Steelers lose to Cleveland and Tampa beats Atlanta, Carolina beats New Orleans and/or the Jets beat Buffalo, the Steelers draft position will improve. Despite the head-to-head loss, the Steelers can not pick ahead of the Chargers due to Strength of Schedule tiebreakers. If the Steelers lose and Tampa, Carolina and the Jets all win, the Steelers would pick 11th in the Draft. The other side of the equation if the Steelers win and everyone else around them loses (specifically St Louis, Miami and New Orleans) the Steelers could drop from the 14th pick to the 17th pick. I would never advocate losing a game, especially to a division opponent, but it is important to keep an eye on these other games to see how it will determine the Steelers draft position in April.

5. History

Obviously, you never want to lose, especially to the Browns. The Steelers actually have a bit of history riding on this game. For starters, the Browns have not swept the Steelers since 1988. Ben Roethlisberger has never had a losing season. His freshman and sophomore years in college he went 7-5 and his worst professional season was 2006 when the Steelers were 8-8. The Steelers need a win this week to avoid their first losing season since 2003.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Looking Ahead At the 2013 Schedule

The NFL won't release the actual schedule for the 2013 football season until sometime this summer, but due to the NFL's scheduling formula, we already know who the Steelers will play next season. With the Steelers loss to Cincinnati, they are now locked in to third place in the division. Here is a brief rundown on how the NFL's scheduling matrix works:
  • Each team plays home and away against their three divisional opponents. (6 games total)
  • Each team plays all four teams from one of the three divisions in their conference, with home and away rotating with each cycle, provided that a team from the east does not have to travel to the West Coast twice in a season. For example, if a team is slated to play both San Diego and Oakland on the road, one of those games will be switched to a home game to prevent the team from travelling to the West Coast twice. (4 games total)
  • Each team plays against the teams that finished in the same position in the division as that team in the two other divisions in their conference. (2 games total)
  • Each team plays all four teams from one of the four divisions in the other conference, with home and away rotating with each cycle. (4 games total)

In addition to the divisional opponents, the Steelers will face all four teams from the AFC East in 2013 as part of their conference opponent rotation after facing the AFC West in 2012 and the AFC South in 2011. The last time the Steelers faced the AFC East in the rotation was in 2010 when they played New England and New York at home and travelled to Buffalo and Miami. That means that we will see the Bills and Dolphins at Heinz Field next year and have to make trips to Foxboro and East Rutherford. 

Since the Steelers are locked into third place in the division, we know they will play the third place teams from both the AFC South and AFC West. With third place already decided in both the AFC South and AFC West, the Steelers will play Tennessee and Oakland in 2013.  In 2010 when the Steelers faced the AFC East, they played their AFC South opponent (Tennessee) on the road and their AFC West opponent (strangely enough, Oakland) at home. That means that the 2013 schedule will switch and the Steelers will play their AFC South opponent at home and AFC West opponent on the road. It is merely coincidence that the opponents (Tennessee and Oakland) are the same in 2013 as they were in 2010.

From the NFC, the Steelers will face off against the NFC North, who they have not played since 2009. In 2009, the Steelers faced the Brett Favre-led Vikings at home and won a wild shootout with the Packers at home. This means we will see Detroit and Chicago in town in 2013. The NFL has already announced that the Steelers and Vikings will be the featured game in London, England next season on September 29. The NFL has always awarded a bye week following the London game, so you can chalk up October 6 as the Steelers bye week for 2013. Personally, I had always been opposed to the Steelers playing in London or another overseas city if it meant giving up a home game, but since we were slated to play the Vikings on the road, the Steelers will not have to surrender a home game in order to appear in London. 

All things told, the Steelers will face Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, and Tennessee at home. The 2013 road trips will be to Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New England, New York (Jets), Green Bay, Oakland, and London to play Minnesota. The NFL allows up to five primetime games per team and I would expect the Steelers to have primetime games at least against New England, Green Bay and Baltimore. With the expansion of Thursday Night Football, it is entirely possible the Steelers will appear in a Thursday night game as well, as they have done in each of the last seven seasons. The 2013 slate of opponents is not overly difficult with less than half of the games against playoff teams. Additionally, the Steelers only have to make two trips outside of the Eastern Time Zone, which has been their achilles heel during the Mike Tomlin era. 

An Airing of Grievances - Defense Edition

In honor of the Steelers season coming to a de facto end against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 23 (known to Seinfeld fans as "Festivus"), I decided to partake in the age-old Festivus tradition of having an Airing of Grievances. Today I'll be taking a look at the Greivances I have with the Steelers Defense. To be honest, the Steelers defense played outstanding through the second half of the season. After giving up 26 to Tennessee, they had a run of 7 games where they held opponents under 21 points. Unfortunately, the offense couldn't do their part and the Steelers dropped winnable games to Cleveland and Baltimore. That said, the defense did have some issues this season.

Third Down Defense

This was an area where the Steelers improved over the course of the season, but against Oakland, Tennessee and San Diego in particular, the Steelers were simply unable to get off the field on third down. The Raiders, yes the Oakland Raiders, were a ridiculous 7 for 12 on 3rd downs against the Steelers with almost all of their conversions coming via quick out-routes against the Steelers defense. Late in the season, the Steelers still hadn't rectified this problem and San Diego converted 12 of 22 third downs, once again mostly on quick outs. No Steelers corner jumped an out-route all season and teams picked the defense apart with quick outs right at the sticks. 

Quarterback Pressure

The Steelers did a good job of shutting down the run and holding opponents mostly in check through the air, but this was primarily due to good tackling (aside from the Dallas game) in the secondary. Teams did not accumulate a lot of Yards After the Catch against the Steelers this year, and that kept their pass defense numbers relatively low. The biggest problem they had in pass coverage was an inability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. There was pressure at times, but it was never consistent and was nonexistent at key moments in games. The only big "splash play" from the outside linebackers this season was when James Harrison stripped Joe Flacco to set up the Steelers in Baltimore. Aside from that, Harrison and Woodley's battles with injury this season severely hampered the Steelers ability to get pressure on the quarterback and force bad throws that would result in turnovers. Which brings me to...


The long and the short of it this season was that the Steelers simply did not force turnovers. On the season they have produced only 16 turnovers, ranking them 5th worst in the league. That is including the 3 turnovers they forced against the Bengals, which was the first time all season the defense forced more than 2 turnovers. In fact, the defense only produced multiple turnovers 3 times - against Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Steelers faced 9 of the 14 most turnover-prone teams in the league yet still ranked at the bottom in securing takeaways. To make matters worse, it took the Steelers until overtime against Kansas City (the team with the most turnovers in the league) to produce just one turnover. The Chiefs average about 2.5 turnovers per game and the Steelers forced only one. Against the Jets (2.3 per game), Titans (1.9 per game), Cowboys (1.7 per game), Raiders (1.7 per game) and Broncos (1.6 per game) the Steelers had just one takeaway. Against the Chargers (1.7 per game) the Steelers could not force one turnover. A defense that can't pressure the passer, gives up conversions on third downs, and can't take the ball away isn't one that will lead you into the playoffs. There were injuries, such as Troy Polamalu's calf injury that kept him out the better part of the year, but nevertheless the Steelers still lacked the splash plays on defense that they had in the past that turned games in their favor.

An Airing of Grievances - Offense Edition

In honor of the Steelers season coming to a de facto end against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 23 (known to Seinfeld fans as "Festivus"), I decided to partake in the age-old Festivus tradition of having an Airing of Grievances. Today I'll be taking a look at the Greivances I have with the Steelers Offense.

Running The Ball

For all the talk that was made in the offseason about committing to the running game, the Steelers fell well short of that this season. Obviously, some situations dictate passing over running, but when you look deeper into the numbers, the Steelers were flat out bad. Football Outsiders ranked the Steelers O-line as the 5th worst run blocking line in the league. By their metric, the Steelers ranked next-to-last in the league in Second Level Yards and in the bottom 10 in the league in Open Field Yards. To make matters worse, the Steelers distribution of running plays is downright sickening. Of their 346 rushing attempts, a staggering 74% of them have been up the middle. more than two standard deviations higher than the league average. The biggest problem here is that the Steelers rate as the second worst team in running up the middle. Meanwhile, Advanced NFL Stats has the Steelers line ranked dead last in the league overall as well as having league-worst numbers in Win Probability Added metrics for both run blocking and pass blocking. 

Field Position

In the fantasy football-dominated landscape of the current NFL where most people are only concerned with yards and stats, one of the often-overlooked aspects of the game is the ability to control field position. The Steelers were downright terrible at this all season, particularly in the second half of the year. In the second half, the Steelers did not have an average starting field position past the 30 yard line and in four of the seven games their average starting point was more than 75 yards from the end zone. Against Cincinnati, the Steelers were backed up behind their own 20 three times. Each of those drives resulted in points for the Bengals. The biggest problem the Steelers had was that even when they were able to drive the ball out of their own end to midfield and flip the field, the defense would let the other team pick up a few first downs and flip the field right back. The Steelers inability to control field position directly effected the lack of points and offensive production this season.

Ben's Bad Decisions

Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at extending the play and making things happen with his feet. We have seen this happen countless times and it has produced a number of big plays for the team. However, down the stretch run of the season Ben made some awful decisions. In the Cowboys game, he threw a horrible pass behind Mike Wallace that got intercepted and set up the Cowboys winning score in overtime. If Ben throws that ball to the sideline rather than to Wallace's inside shoulder, Carr has no chance of picking it off. This week against Cincinnati, Ben stared down Heath Miller and threw a pass right to Leon Hall who was all over Heath and Hall ran it back for a touchdown. Late in the game, Ben had Mike Wallace open but overthrew him by 10 yards, throwing it right to Reggie Nelson. One of the worst decisions Ben made came after a Cortez Allen interception set up the Steelers in Bengals territory. The Steelers had the ball right on the edge of field goal range and Ben took a sack on 3rd down rather than throwing the ball away, knocking us out of field goal range. 

Predictable Play-Calling

In the first half of the season, Todd Haley's offense was well-balanced between running and passing and the Steelers ran for over 100 yards in 4 of the 5 games following their Week 4 bye. Over the second half of the season, the play-calling got much more predictable with first down runs up the middle and the Steelers landing themselves in more third and long situations. In the first half of the season, the Steelers did a much better job of controlling down and distance and getting themselves into manageable third down situations. As a result, they had the best third down conversion rate in the league, converting more than half of their third downs. Their second half down-and-distance struggles resulted in a third down conversion rate that now sits at 42.2% and culminated with a dastardly 2-for-14 effort against Cincinnati. I was a big critic of Bruce Arians' offense because it lacked any cohesive design and resembled a schoolyard offense that was reliant on Ben to make plays with his feet and one of the receivers to improvise to get open. Todd Haley's offense seemed like a departure from this during the first half of the year when the Steelers utilized short passes and quick slants with the idea of getting the ball to their receivers and letting the receivers make a play with the ball in their hands. This changed over the second half of the year and things seemed to revert to the schoolyard-style that plagued us the last five years under Arians.

Game and Clock Management

Mike Tomlin has never excelled at clock management, and this season his decisions were just as bad as in years past. Tomlin's decisions to call timeouts on defense have given opponents the chance to add points at the end of the first half and his numerous ill-advised challenges have cost the Steelers useful timeouts. Tomlin's decisions to kick long field goals (56 in Tennessee and 53 against Cincinnati) both resulted in short fields for the opposition that ultimately resulted in the Steelers losing. In Tennessee where the defense hadn't stopped the Titans all game, Tomlin left Tennessee with plenty of time on the clock and a short field with a tie game. Against Cincinnati, Suisham's field goal attempt fell short and even though the defense stopped the Bengals, the Steelers were left with a long field and Ben threw an interception on the ensuing drive which set up the winning score for Cincinnati. In the first game against Baltimore, when the Steelers were dominating the Ravens on the ground and drove the ball down the field on the strength of the running game, the coaching staff opted to call a low-percentage throw for Byron Leftwich (a lob for Wallace in the corner of the end zone) rather than running on 3rd and 1 from the 4. The pass was incomplete and the Steelers had to settle for a field goal that left them trailing 13-10. A touchdown there would have put them ahead of the Ravens and the defense had been shutting down Baltimore's offense the whole game. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gameday: Cincinnati Bengals

Home, Sweet Home
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. The Time Is Now

Time has run out on the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers. There is no longer any room for error. The Steelers must beat Cincinnati if they want to have any hope of making the playoffs. The Bengals can clinch a playoff spot with a win and eliminate the Steelers in the process. The Steelers have had plenty of opportunities against mediocre teams this season and have left plays on the field. As a result, we're entering week 16 staring at a 7-7 team on the verge of missing the playoffs. That said, the Steelers still do control their own destiny but every scenario in which they can make the playoffs requires a victory over Cincinnati today. Any way you slice it, the Steelers must beat the Bengals.

2. Keenan Lewis vs AJ Green

This is the single biggest matchup of the game. Lewis reaggravated his hip injury last week but is listed as probable this week. With Ike Taylor still out, Lewis figures to draw all-world receiver AJ Green. In the first meeting between these teams, Ike completely shut out Green aside from one catch for a 7-yard touchdown on a slant route where Ike was in single coverage with no help over the middle. Lewis has played solid this season but Green is the best receiver he will face all year. The return of Cortez Allen on the other side means the Steelers won't be lining up guys that just came in off the street as their starting corners, but look for the Bengals to go to a 3 WR set to try to get mis-matches against the Steelers nickel defense.

3. Run The Ball

The Bengals have the 9th-ranked run defense in the league, but in the first meeting between these two teams the Steelers dominated Cincinnati on the ground. Their 167 yards were the second most against the Bengals this season. Most of those yards came up the middle with Jonathan Dwyer going for 122 on 17 carries. With Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro anchoring the middle of the line, the Steelers should ground and pound against the relatively soft middle of the Bengals defense.

4. Steelers O-line vs Bengals Front Four

Cincinnati's front four has been dominant this season. Much like the New York Giants, they will rotate six guys in and out of their defensive front depending on the situation. DT Geno Atkins is the leader of the group with 10.5 sacks on the season. Ends Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry have combined for 21 more sacks this season. The Bengals get after the quarterback and they do it in a variety of ways with pressure and stunts and twists from their front four. The ability of the Steelers line to handle the Bengals front and win at the point of attack will be a key factor in this game. In the last two weeks, the Steelers have gotten beat in the trenches which has resulted in the stagnation of their running game. The Steelers need to get back on track and that starts by winning battles in the trenches.

5. Keep Them Honest

The Bengals have a great pass-rushing defensive line, but as a team they tend to over-pursue and can be exploited with misdirection plays and end-arounds. In the first meeting between these two teams, the Steelers ran 4 end-arounds (2 to Brown and 2 to Wallace) that gained a total of 30 yards. They also called a reverse pass with Brown throwing for a wide open Baron Batch who flat out dropped the ball. The end-arounds kept the Bengals defense honest and enabled the Steelers to pound them up the middle both with the run and the pass. In their first meeting, in addition to a dominant performance on the ground, the Steelers worked the middle of the field in the passing game. Heath Miller had 6 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.

AFC Playoff Picture

With two weeks left in the season, the AFC North is the only division that has not been decided. Houston has clinched the AFC South and will clinch the top seed in the AFC with a win over Minnesota. Denver has locked up the AFC West and has the inside track for the #2 seed. New England needs a Denver loss to get the bye but has the AFC East wrapped up. In the North, Baltimore holds a one-game lead on Cincinnati and a two-game lead on Pittsburgh. In a strange scenario, if the three teams all finish the season with a 9-7 record (which would require the Steelers to beat the Bengals and Browns, the Bengals to lose to the Steelers and beat the Ravens and the Ravens to lose to the Giants and Bengals) the Steelers would actually win the AFC North.

For the Wild Card, the 9-5 Colts have the advantage on the #5 seed and need only a win over Kansas City to clinch the 5th seed. Cincinnati currently holds the 6th position with an 8-6 record over Pittsburgh (7-7) and Miami (6-8). The Bengals only need a win over Pittsburgh this week to wrap up the 6th and final playoff spot.

The Steelers still control their own destiny in the Wild Card race and can reclaim control of the 6th spot with a win over the Bengals. The Steelers can not clinch a playoff spot this week, but they can put themselves in position to do so next week. The margin for error is zero, as a loss to Cincinnati will eliminate them from playoff contention. If the Steelers beat the Bengals and the Ravens lose to the Giants, the Steelers would be in position to win the division in Week 17.

Strangely enough, Miami is still barely clinging to life in the playoff race. At 6-8 they need Cincinnati to lose out (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) and Pittsburgh to split their final two (beat Cincinnati and lose to Cleveland) while they win their last two. In a three-way tie at 8-8, The Steelers would beat the Bengals on head-to-head but lose out to the Fins on Conference Record.

There are only two games left, but anything can happen. 

It's going to be cold and sunny for the game tomorrow.

Be loud. 




Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gameday: Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones' 9th Wonder of the World
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What to Watch For

1. Steelers corners vs Cowboys receivers

This might seem like beating a dead horse at this point, but the Steelers ability to cover the Cowboys receivers will be the biggest matchup in the game. Keenan Lewis has been good this year, but without Ike Taylor and possibly Cortez Allen, the Steelers will be strapped to cover both Dallas' receivers. All signs point to Dez Bryant attempting to play through his broken finger, which is bad news for the Steelers. If Allen isn't able to go, Curtis Brown, the third round pick in 2011, figures to start opposite Lewis. Brown struggled against the Chargers, giving up 6 third down conversions. Behind Brown on the depth chart is Josh Victorian who made the practice squad out of training camp and dressed for the first time last week. Demarcus Van Dyke, who the Steelers claimed off waivers from Oakland, has been a penalty machine on Special Teams and could also see time in the secondary. All of these represent bad matchups for the Steelers and if they aren't able to get pressure on Romo it could be a long day for the defense.

2. David DeCastro

After suffering a knee injury in the third week of preseason, Steelers first round pick David DeCastro will finally make his first start of the year. DeCastro has dressed the last two weeks and played on the field goal team, but with the injuries along the line, DeCastro will finally see game action. The starting lineup figures to be Max Starks at LT, Ramon Foster who has played the whole year at RG moving to LG, Maurkice Pouncey at C, DeCastro at RG and Kelvin Beachum at RT. This is a bit of a concern as having Beachum, the rookie 7th-rounder out of SMU, beside DeCastro means there will be two rookies on the right side of the line.

3. Pressure Romo

Dallas has one of the worst rushing offenses in the league. They are 31st in rushing yards and dead last in yards per attempt. Additionally, they have the fifth-fewest rushing attempts in the league. Conversely, they have the third most passing attempts, which means the ball will be in Romo's hand for much of the day. If the Steelers are going to give their young, inexperienced corners any help, the front seven is going to have to get pressure on Romo and force him into some bad decisions. Getting LaMarr Woodley back on the left side should be a big improvement over Jason Worlids and James Harrison has been playing his best ball in over a year. Aside from Big Ben, Romo might be the best quarterback in the league at getting out of pressure and making plays down the field. He will try to fit the ball into tight spaces, so the Steelers need to be ready to try and jump some routes. Romo has actually been a better quarterback away from home this season. At home, Romo has only two fewer touchdowns but eight more interceptions and nine more sacks. This all adds up to a quarterback rating that is 17 points lower at home than it is on the road.

4. Run the ball

The Chargers stacked the box against us and made the Steelers rushing attack a non-factor. With Rashard Mendenhall's suspension, the onus is on Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to put this team on their backs. The Steelers biggest problem against the Chargers was their lack of rhythm on offense. They couldn't pick up first downs and couldn't stay on the field. Dallas has the 16th-ranked run defense in the league but has given up over 100 yards in each of their last four games and in seven of the last eight. In fact, only one team this year has run for less than 80 yards against the Cowboys defense. The Steelers should be able to attack the Cowboys up the middle with NT Jay Ratliff out and NT Josh Brent also out.

5. Turn Back the Clocks

At this point it might seem like I'm beating a dead horse, but the trend is so alarming that it bears repeating. In the Mike Tomlin era the Steelers are 67-34 overall, a 66.3% winning percentage. They are 62-21 in the Eastern Time Zone, a 74.7% winning percentage. Their biggest issues have been outside the Eastern Time Zone where they are a mere 5-13 (27.7%). This is a marked contrast to their overall road record of 27-21 (56.3%) and even their road record in Eastern Time of 22-9 (71%). The Steelers struggles outside of Eastern Time have not all been against superior opponents. They have dropped games to teams like Oakland and Tennessee on the road this season. The Steelers have not won outside of Eastern Time since beating the Chiefs on Monday Night last season and carry a 5-game losing streak into Dallas. Their losses were to San Francisco, Denver (playoffs), Denver, Oakland and Tennessee.

AFC Playoff Race

The Steelers came out last week and played a forgettable game where they didn't look like a team that wanted to play in January. Somehow, despite this lackluster effort, the Steelers still control their own destiny for the 6th and final playoff spot in the AFC. After Cincinnati's win over Philadelphia last night, the Steelers must win two of their last three, and will make the playoffs as long as one of those two wins comes against the Bengals. 

The Ravens dropped another game last week to the Redskins in overtime and still have not secured the division title. Baltimore has to play Denver, the Giants and Cincinnati to close out the year. The Ravens 9-4 record gives them the inside track for the division crown. The only way the Steelers can win the division is if the Ravens drop their last 3 games and the Steelers win out. 

The Colts have a firm hold on the first Wild Card spot with a 9-4 record and will be almost impossible to catch, though they do have two games left against the Texans. Houston can clinch the AFC South with a win over the Colts this week, so the Texans should come out guns blazing against Indianapolis.

The Bengals now hold a half game lead on the Steelers for the 6th Wild Card spot thanks to their win on Thursday which took their record to 8-6. The Steelers currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Bengals thanks to a mid-season win. If the Steelers complete the sweep next week, they will win any tiebreaker scenario with the Bengals. If the Steelers beat the Cowboys this week, they will have a chance to clinch a playoff spot next week against Cincinnati.

The Jets, despite all their problems, somehow only trail the Steelers by one game with a 6-7 record. The Steelers early-season victory over the Jets could prove to be huge down the stretch. As strange as it sounds, the Cleveland Browns (5-8) could make the playoffs if they win out and get some help from other teams. The Chargers, Bills and Dolphins are still mathematically alive at 5-8 but can be eliminated with a loss this week. San Diego plays Carolina, Buffalo plays Seattle and Miami plays Jacksonville. 

As strange as it sounds, the Steelers can still make the playoffs if they lose to Dallas this week. In fact, they would still control their own destiny, even with a loss. Ideally, we will go down to Dallas and out-duel the Cowboys which would give us a chance to wrap up a playoff spot next week. However, don't put this one in the bank with the Cowboys fighting for a playoff spot and two of the Steelers top three corners unlikely to play. According to the Friday Injury Report, Ike Taylor is out and Cortez Allen is doubtful with a groin injury. This means Keenan Lewis will start at one corner and either Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian or Demarcus Van Dyke will play the other corner spots. That isn't an ideal scenario for the Steelers against Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gameday: San Diego Chargers

Heinz Field
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Return of the Quarterback

It's been three and a half games since Ben Roethlisberger last took a snap under center for the Steelers. That all changes shortly after 1:00 today. Ben was cleared earlier this week to play and all reports out of the Steelers facility said it looked like his velocity had returned. Ben has always been one to play as much as he can, even if he is injured, but even a less-than-fully-healthy Ben is still better than some of the other options this team has at quarterback. Charlie Batch will be ready to roll as the #2 in this game. Last week's win was huge, but if this team wants to go anywhere in the postseason, it needs to have Ben Roethlisberger under center.

2. Blitzkrieg

San Diego has lost so many linemen to injury this year they are literally taking guys off the street, strapping pads on them, and having them start on the line. Even with LaMarr Woodley out this week, the Steelers should be able to dominate the Chargers up front. James Harrison has started to look like his old self again and Brett Keisel has been able to get solid pressure over the last few weeks. Harrison and Keisel have always dominated the Chargers, with the Deisel even having a special sack celebration just for when he gets Phillip Rivers. Keep an eye out, it's a "row the boat" celebration that Keisel has described as "Going Down Rivers." Awesome. San Diego has given up 36 sacks this year, the 4th most of any team in the league.

3. Missing Ike

One of the most under-the-radar streaks on this Steelers team was Ike Taylor's run of 135 consecutive games played. Even when he was demoted out of the starting lineup by Bill Cowher he still saw time in games. Ike has been a rock in the Steelers secondary but with him suffering an ankle sprain last week the Steelers will have to find a way to survive without him. Last week, Cortez Allen played a heck of a game in relief of Taylor and is starting to come into his own as an NFL corner. On the other side, Keenan Lewis has been the surprise of the season on defense. Everyone laughed when Lewis predicted a Pro Bowl season in training camp, but his 19 passes defended is tied with Tim Jennings of the Bears for the league lead and he is 13th amongst NFL corners in tackles.

4. Big Trouble in Little California

The Chargers have been an utter disaster this season, collapsing down the stretch and committing terrible turnovers at key times in games. The Chargers have committed 24 turnovers this season, the 7th most in the league. Phillip Rivers has been downright terrible, throwing 15 interceptions with only 18 touchdowns. This week, a story came out of San Diego that both head coach Norv Turner and general manager AJ Smith will be gone after this season. It's hard to blame the Chargers organization for making this move as they have gone from a team that was the cream of the crop in the AFC West and a Super Bowl contender to being mired in mediocrity - or worse - and seeing all of their top talent leave town.

5. Getting Healthy at the Right Time

After battling through injuries to key players during the last quarter of the season, the Steelers are finally starting to get healthy. There are still a few key players such as LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor that will miss this week's game. However, with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown back on offense and Troy Polamalu back on defense, the Steelers are starting to look more like the team that won four in a row in October and November. Other players who missed games with injury, including Jerricho Cotchery and Willie Colon are listed as probable on the injury report and have a very good chance of playing. Colon's return will help return some semblance of balance to the offensive line, though hopefully he doesn't miss any more blocks like he did against Baltimore. Kelvin Beachum played his butt off in his first career start against Baltimore, and a lot of the line's success will ride on his ability to hold down the RT spot over the coming weeks. On the whole, this team is getting guys back from injury at the right time and barring any further setbacks, they could be at their best right as the playoffs come around.

By the Numbers

  • San Diego has never won a regular season game in Pittsburgh. The Chargers are currently 0-14 in Pittsburgh during the regular season, but 2-1 here in the playoffs.
  • Only two of San Diego's 8 losses this season have been by more than 10 points.
  • Since 2007, San Diego is 7-9 in 1:00 games
  • Since 2007, San Diego is 5-12 in the Eastern Time Zone 
  • Scott Green will be the head referee for tomorrow's game. Green was also the referee in the 2008 meeting between these two teams which was an officiating disaster that ended in the only 11-10 game in NFL history.

AFC Playoff Picture

At the three-quarter pole of the season, the outlook is bleak for the Steelers chances to reclaim the division crown. The Ravens still hold a two game lead in the standings with a 9-3 record to the Steelers 7-5 mark. The Ravens hold the divisional tiebreaker with a 4-1 record to the Steelers 2-2 record. Even if the Steelers won their two remaining division games and the Ravens lost to the Bengals, both teams could only finish 4-2 in divisional play. At that point, the tiebreaker would go to Conference Record. The Ravens are currently 8-2 against AFC teams while the Steelers are only 4-5. The Ravens only have two games remaining against AFC opponents, which means that the worst they can finish is 8-4 in conference play while the best the Steelers can do is 7-5. The Steelers can not win this tiebreaker, which means the only chance they have of winning the division title is to make up three games on the Ravens over the last four weeks.

The Wild Card Race is essentially down to three teams. Mathematically, nine teams are still alive for playoff spots. That number could be cut in by a third after next week. Currently, Indianapolis (8-4) and Pittsburgh (7-5) are the leaders for the two Wild Card spots. Cincinnati is hanging tight at 7-5. Three AFC East teams follow next with Buffalo, Miami and the Jets all sitting at 5-7. Buffalo and Miami both face NFC opponents and can't be eliminated this week. The Jets face Jacksonville and can be eliminated with a loss and wins by Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. The last three teams - San Diego, Cleveland and Tennessee - are all sitting at 4-8. The Steelers can help their own cause by beating the Chargers and eliminating them from contention. If the Steelers or Bengals win this week, both Cleveland and Tennessee would be eliminated with losses.

We are still a few weeks out from the looming Steelers-Bengals showdown that will likely decide the last playoff spot. The Bengals face the surging Cowboys this week then the slumping Eagles next week. The Steelers face San Diego and Dallas before meeting Cincinnati. The Bengals are currently 1-3 in the division and 5-5 in the conference. Indianapolis, who leads Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by a game for the first Wild Card spot, still has to play Houston twice along with Tennessee and Kansas City. All signs still point to the Steelers-Bengals game on December 23 determining the final playoff spot and it would take a big collapse from one of the top three teams coupled with a big run by one of the AFC East teams for the playoff situation to change.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Don't Buy What Mike Wallace Is Selling

The transformation of Mike Wallace this season has not been of the kind that most Steelers fans had hoped for after the first three years of his career. Wallace has not been nearly as sharp this season and seems like a shell of his former self. I have scrutinized his apparent lack of effort multiple times this season. Yesterday, Wallace spoke to the media about his "struggles" this year. Most of his quotes can be found in this article from the Tribune-Review that basically points to Wallace losing focus during games as a reason for his dropoff in production and dropping the ball.

However, the quote that struck me was this one from Mike: "when you don’t get the ball for two-and-half quarters, you lose focus. But that’s the type of offense this is. We’re spreading it around, so you’re not going to get as many targets. When you get them, you have to make the best of them." On the surface, this seems like a fairly innocent comment which seemingly would be true in the offensive transition from Bruce Arians to Todd Haley. The problem is that the statement is flat out wrong.

Wallace is claiming that he is not seeing as many targets this season as he did in years past because the ball is being spread around more. Let's take a look at the raw numbers, per ESPN.

In his rookie year of 2009, Wallace had 39 receptions on 72 targets for 756 yards. Wallace caught 54.2% of the balls thrown his way and averaged 19.4 yards per catch. On a per game basis, Wallace averaged 4.5 targets per game.

Wallace's 2010 season was a bit of a breakout year as he had 60 receptions on 100 targets for 1257 yards. In 2010 Wallace caught 60% of his targets, averaged 21 yards per catch, and saw 6.25 targets per game.

In 2011 Wallace saw the ball even more, recording 72 receptions on 113 targets for 1193 yards. He caught even more of his targets (63.7%) than in the past two seasons but saw a dropoff in yards per catch down to 16.6. His targets also increased to 7.06 per game.

Through the first 12 weeks of the 2012 season, Wallace is claiming that the ball is being spread around more and he hasn't has as many targets. He has 52 catches on 93 targets for 616 yards. This is his lowest catch rate (55.9%) since his rookie year and the lowest yards per catch (down to 11.8) of his career. However, his targets have actually increased this season to 7.75 per game. If Wallace continues on this pace over the last four weeks, he will see 124 targets on the season, an increase of 11 targets over his 2011 season.

Even if you break down targets as a percentage of the passing offense, Wallace's 93 targets on the Steelers 441 passing attempts means the ball comes his way on 21.1% of the Steelers passing plays. This is a marginal increase over 2011 where Wallace was targeted on 20.9% of passing plays and 2010 where Wallace got looks on 20.8% of passing plays.

Any way you slice it, Mike Wallace is just flat out wrong in his assessment of the offense. He is getting more targets per game this season but catching balls at a lower rate than either of the last two seasons. Some of this is due to quarterback play, such as Charlie Batch missing a wide open Wallace in the end zone last week. However some of it is also due to Wallace's lack of effort and refusal to come back for the ball or lay out to try to make a catch or try to battle defenders in the air for the ball. Wallace has also had more drops this season than in any other year of his career and has left at least 3 touchdowns on the field over the course of the season. Wallace's gripe with the offense is more likely the lack of "go" routes or deep balls that are coming his way, but in his development into being a complete receiver, he needs to show he is capable of making the clutch catches such as slant routes on 3rd down that can help set up the big plays down the field. Wallace has also seen a lot more double-teams this season, but his targets have not decreased (as he believes) even though he hasn't been as open this year as he was in previous years.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

No Retreat, No Surrender: Steelers Wim


Steeler Nation entered this game without much hope of a victory. Charlie Batch was starting. Kelvin Beachum was playing right tackle. The Ravens hadn't lost at home since 2010. This seemed like a recipe for disaster. But credit the Steelers for having the gumption to stick with it and not throw in the towel, even when the Ravens went up by two scores.

The Steelers won the toss and deferred.

Flacco comes out gunning and takes a shot deep for Torrey Smith that Ike breaks up but injures himself in the process. The Ravens get out to midfield but Flacco makes a horrible throw on 3rd down.

Manny Sanders gets the drive rolling with a 3rd down grab across the middle then Dwyer takes over. Dwyer grounds and pounds his way down the field carrying us to the edge of field goal territory. AB makes a catch to get us closer and Suisham connects from 46 to put points on the board.


Ray Rice gets a few touches and picks up a first down then the Ravens go back to the air and the defense holds.

The Steelers take over in bad field position but work it into a 3rd and 2. Rather than taking an easy throw for the first down, Batch tries to air it out down the sideline for AB and just misses him. Punt.

Pierce comes in for Rice and gets the Ravens to 3rd and short then runs over Ryan Clark on the sideline to get the first down. Clark had a shot at him short of the sticks too. Vontae Leach is a douchebag and makes a big deal out of making a catch.

Second Quarter

With the Ravens already in field goal range, the defense comes out of the break on a mission. They succeed and don't even give up another first down. Tucker ties it.


Redman tries his hand and works us into 3rd and 4 but Batch gets sacked by Freddy Kruger when he holds on to the ball forever. That sack isn't on the line. Batch needs to get rid of it sooner. Punt.

Flacco continues to work the outs and come-back routes and converts a 3rd down to Torrey Smith to move them into Steelers territory. Flacco takes a shot deep for Smith and his feet get tangled up with Allen's but the flag comes out for pass interference. Shaky call. The defense takes it to heart and shuts the door on the Ravens offense, with Foote deflecting a 3rd down pass.


Things start to look bad when the Steelers go 3-and-out and have to give it right back to the Ravens, but thankfully Flacco makes a downright terrible throw when he's flushed out of the pocket and it lands right in the arms of Ryan Clark.

The Steelers take over at midfield but Haley tries to get cute with it and calls a reverse pass with AB trying to hit Dwyer on the sideline. Not a good play call and AB's pass is intercepted.

The defense seemingly comes up with a stop but a phantom flag on Keenan Lewis comes out for something on 3rd down. Tomlin gives the ref a death-stare and tells him it was a terrible call. Flacco takes advantage and hits Boldin down the sideline then goes right back to the same play and drops one in right at the goal line before Clark can get across. Good throw.


Not looking good.

The Steelers take over with 3 minutes left on the clock after Rainey puts together a nice return down the sideline to give us good field position. Dwyer picks up a first down across midfield as the clock hits two minutes. After a failed screen pass, things look dire on 3rd and 13 but a defensive offsides gives us a free play and Batch takes a shot for Wallace down the sideline who flat out drops a perfectly catchable ball that hits him right in the hands. Ugh.
Thankfully, we still have Heath Miller. Off the penalty, Batch hits Heath on the sideline who turns it up and gets us into field goal range. Batch goes back to Heath to get us into 3rd and 3 where Batch overthrows a WIDE open Wallace in the end zone. Wallace was literally the only player in the end zone. Not sure how Batch misses him, but he air mailed it. Settling for 3 there leaves you with a bad taste heading into halftime.


Third Quarter

The Steelers come out determined to play ground-and-pound Steelers football. Redman converts a 3rd and 3 to get things moving then Batch hits Heath down the middle for a big gain that he rumbles all the way down into the red zone with. Two plays later, Dwyer bounces one outside and Batch gets out in front of him and throws a big-time block to spring Dwyer for his first NFL touchdown.

Even the ESPN play-by-play recognized it.

One more, since seeing Ed Reed laying on the ground after a missed tackle never gets old.


Huge drive.

The Ravens start to move the ball but an offensive pass interference call on Boldin nullifies a converted 3rd down and forces a punt.

The wheels completely fall off on the next drive. Batch barely gets a pass of as he's being sacked and it's ruled incomplete, but the Ravens challenge and lose. On 3rd down, Batch hits Sanders wide open over the middle and he has a clear path to the sideline and probably scores but he loses the ball as he tries to switch hands with it and the Ravens fall on it.

The defense holds to a 3rd and 11 but Troy misses an assignment on a tight end and the Ravens convert. Two plays later, Rice bounces one to the outside and takes it home for 6 and the lead.



AB makes a big grab wide open down the sideline and falls down near midfield trying to put a move on Ed Reed. The drive stalls out there when Sanders can't hang on to a pass on 3rd down but the field position was flipped. Sanders had the ball in his hands but took a lick from Pollard.

Larry Foote rings up a sack as the quarter ends.

Fourth Quarter

Flacco makes another bad throw on 3rd down and it's punt city.

The ground game takes over with Dwyer and Redman carrying us down into Ravens territory. Batch goes to Heath up the middle for another big gain to get us to the red zone. Batch gets greedy and tries to hit Heath down the seam on the next play but Ed Reed undercuts it and comes up with the interception.
Not what we needed there.

Three plays later, Darth Harrison shows up and hammers the ball out of Flacco's hand.

Ziggy falls on it and all of a sudden we're in business.

Great picture. Ziggy gives the ball to LeBeau.

Sanders makes a big grab over the middle to get us inside the 10. Two plays later, Batch rolls out and hits Heath who dives for the pylon and knocks it over. Replay upholds it.


That touchdown puts him ahead of Elbie Nickel for the most TDs ever by a Steelers Tight End


The Ravens get the ball back with 7 and a half minutes to play. Flacco completes one pass then craps all over himself. Big-time stand by the defense.

Chuck gets it back at the 15 with a long field ahead. Things start slow with two bottled-up runs but Batch stands in under pressure and hits Wallace to get things rolling. Batch gets blasted by Ngata right in the head but no flag comes out. Chuck keeps rolling and hits AB twice to get us across midfield as the clock hits two minutes and suddenly there's hope that this might actually happen. Out of the break, Batch finds Wallace open for another first down and takes a shot from Kruger. The flag comes out for roughing the passer to put us in field goal range. With Baltimore out of timeouts, the Steelers could've just kneeled on it and kicked the field goal but Tomlin elects to run the ball. A false start on Pouncey knocks us back 5 yards then it's Dwyer, Dwyer and Redman. The clock rolls to two seconds before Tomlin calls the timeout.
Great coaching right there.

Suisham time

Snap. Kick.

Suisham like a boss

Players of the Game
Offensive Game Ball: Charlie Batch
Defensive Game Ball: Cortez Allen

Honorable Mentions:
Heath Miller
James Harrison
Kelvin Beachum
Shaun Suisham
Larry Foote
Jonathan Dwyer

Final Thoughts

This says it all:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gameday: Baltimore Ravens

Joe's Crab Shack
TV: CBS (get ready for Jim Nantz and Phil Simms)
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What to Watch For

1. The Boys Are Back

The best possible news the Steelers could have received was that Ben Roethlisberger was able to play. However, Ben is still recovering from his shoulder and rib injury, so we will have to wait at least another week to see him back on the field. Second and third on the "best case scenario" list would involve getting Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown back on the field. As luck would have it, both figure to be in uniform. This is a huge upgrade for the Steelers on both sides of the ball. Brown's presence will improve the offense tremendously and Troy is an absolute game-changer on defense.

2. Every Day We're Shufflin'

The biggest unknown for the Steelers heading into the game is the offensive line. Willie Colon is still listed as Questionable on the injury report with a knee injury. If he is able to go, he will start at LG with Maurkice Pouncey playing center. Left-to-right the line would be Starks-Colon-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum. If Colon can't play, it looks like Maurkice Pouncey will be sliding over to play guard and Doug Legursky will be coming in to play center rather than Legursky playing LG as he did against Cleveland. Left-to-right the line would be Starks-Pouncey-Legursky-Foster-Beachum. One way or another, it looks as though rookie seventh-rounder Kelvin Beachum will be starting at right tackle. Paul Kruger could reprise his Freddy Kruger impression from two weeks ago against Beachum. This is a bad matchup any way you slice it.

3. Home Joe

The Ravens have torched opponents at home this season and the primary reason for that is Joe Flacco's ridiculous splits between home and road games. In home games he completes 11% more of his passes (66.5% to 55.3%) averages about 4 more yards per attempt (9.32 to 5.65) and has a QB Rating nearly 40 points higher (108.2 to 70.3). Normally, the key to winning the game would be stopping Ray Rice. But for how good Joe Flacco has been at home, the gameplan has to focus on pressuring Flacco into making mistakes with the ball.

4. The Crown of the North

While much of the talk around Pittsburgh has been about the Steelers opportunity to still make the playoffs as a Wild Card, the fact of the matter is that the Ravens can clinch the division title with a win. This would be their second straight division title and their fourth consecutive win over the Steelers. Even though we're entering this game with Charlie Batch at quarterback, losing to the Ravens twice and the Browns in a three week span would be downright sickening. On top of that, losing to the Ravens and watching them clinch the AFC North title? Vom.

5. Be Backup Quarterback Friendly

Coach Tomlin's phrase of the week from his press conference was that the Steelers were not "backup quarterback friendly" against the Browns. Considering they turned the ball over 8 times and couldn't run to save their lives, this statement rings true. Two weeks ago, the Steelers offensive line dominated the Ravens defense in the second half. The line was blowing the Ravens off the ball, but the coaches made a strange decision to try a pass on a 3rd and 2 from inside the 5 despite the success up front. This time around, even with a revamped offensive line, look for the Steelers to keep pounding the rock. The Ravens 26th-ranked run defense is well-documented this season, but that ranking is a bit deceiving. The Ravens are in the bottom 10 of the league in yards against, but have faced the 3rd most rushing attempts and are actually in the top 10 in the league in yards per rush attempt against, averaging only 4.0 yards per carry against. Jonathan Dwyer has been anointed the starting back for the Steelers and he will need to just keep pounding against this Ravens front if the Steelers are going to be able to control the clock and keep the Ravens offense on the sideline.

Playoff Race

In the division race, the Steelers are 3 games back of the Ravens with 5 games to play. Looking at the Wild Card race, things look slightly more manageable. The current Wild Card standings are:
#5 Seed: Indianapolis (7-4)
#6 Seed: Pittsburgh (6-5)
Cincinnati (6-5)
Miami (5-6)

San Diego, Tennessee, Buffalo, and the Jets are all sitting at 4-7 and would pretty much have to run the table to have a hope at making the playoffs. San Diego's next two games are against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. If they lose either game, they are effectively out of the race. Tennessee plays their next two against Houston and Indianapolis. After losing to Jacksonville, Tennessee would be effectively eliminated in two weeks if they lose both games. The Jets have the easiest pair of games the next two weeks with slumping Arizona and Jacksonville but need two wins to stay in the race before their conclusion where they face the other three teams in this group. Buffalo has four of their last 5 games at home where they are 2-2 this season. Playing .500 ball at home won't get the Bills to the playoffs and they have to win out against Jacksonville, St Louis, Seattle, Miami and the Jets to have a chance at reaching 9 wins.

Assuming 9 wins is what it will take to get into the playoffs, Indianapolis obviously has the best chance of getting there. Despite having two games left against Houston, the Colts also face an up-and-down Detroit team, a slumping Tennessee team, and the downright awful Chiefs. Barring an injury to Andrew Luck, the Colts should get to 9 wins, possibly 10.

At the other end of the spectrum, Miami at 5-6 has an uphill battle to get to 9 wins. The schedule-makers did not do them any favors, backloading their December schedule with two games against New England and a road trip to San Francisco. The Fins also have Jacksonville and Buffalo at home, but they would still need to win two of three against the Patriots and 49ers to get to 9 wins.

This leaves two teams - Pittsburgh and Cincinnati - who are both 6-5, to battle for the last playoff spot. The Bengals and Steelers have a very similar slate of games to close out the season. Both teams play San Diego, though the Bengals have to travel to the west coast and the Steelers get the Chargers at home in the early afternoon.  The inverse is true for Dallas, where the Steelers have to travel to Jerry World and the Bengals get the Cowboys at home. Both teams also have to play the Ravens, but the Steelers have to go to Baltimore where the Ravens haven't lost since 2010. The Bengals get the Ravens at home on the last week of the season, when it's possible the Ravens will have absolutely nothing to play for. The Bengals have the clear advantage on that matchup. Of the similar teams that the two teams play, the Bengals have a slight advantage due to playing two games at home and only one on the road whereas the Steelers play both Dallas and Baltimore on the road.

The Steelers do have a slight advantage in the one different opponent - the Steelers get the Browns at home and the Bengals travel to Philadelphia. The Eagles are terrible right now, but a road game is a road game and you never know what will happen. The Steelers figure to have Ben Roethlisberger back before the season finale against the Browns, which gives them a clear advantage. It is highly unlikely the Steelers will turn the ball over 8 times in the rematch.

This leaves us with one final game to discuss: the December 23 showdown between the Steelers and Bengals at Heinz Field. In all likelihood, this game will determine who is the 6th seed in the AFC. The Steelers already have a win against Cincinnati and a win at home would solidify the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bengals.

Obviously, there are no guarantees and nothing is a lock, but if the Steelers can find a way to piece together three wins against their remaining five opponents (including a win over the Bengals), they should find themselves in the playoffs.