Sunday Night Football with the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers brings Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Roethlisberger to the spotlight, but the main focus of this game is how much a loss can hurt each team’s playoff chances?
The Colts are probably more relaxed. Despite playing with a 40-year old backup quarterback and a disappointing running game headlining Frank Gore, they’ve been playing well recently, especially on defense. Three consecutive wins holding opponents to 24 points or less, including giving up just 12 against the Buccaneers. The Steelers defense might have stopped the Browns on just nine, but those are the Browns. In Seattle and against Oakland they gave up 74 points combined.
The Colts are in the AFC South, and even if the Texas seem like they’re giving more of a fight this season, it still leaves them with games against the Jags, Titans and Houston, while playing Miami doesn’t seem too scary. The Steelers might be the last team with a winning record they face until the end of the regular season, and Andrew Luck is coming back at some point. And this season, finishing second in the AFC South might not mean being out of the playoffs.
For the Steelers, this is one of only two home game remainings. Yes, they play the Browns in Cleveland to finish the season, never a bad way to go. But the other opponents? Broncos, Bengals and Ravens, who might be without half their salary cap on the field, but they keep finding ways to win or make things very difficult and go down to the wire. The Steelers already tasted it once this season which caused Josh Scobee to be released, while Justin Tucker was just getting started.
Pressure isn’t new to Roethlisberger, but it doesn’t help he once again has to keep up with a defense that doesn’t do a great job of slowing anyone down. The Colts aren’t a team that piles on the points, but should find a rhythm and opening against Pittsburgh. Being aware that it’s not the end of the world if they lose might work to their advantage, especially if the Steelers aren’t capable of scoring some quick touchdowns in the first half.