Dunlap: AFC Right There For Steelers' Taking

No runaway favorite right now in conference

Colin Dunlap
November 12, 2018 - 1:13 pm

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

You saw what I saw on Sunday, right? 

Please tell me you saw it. For the first time that I can ever remember --- and maybe my eyes were deceiving me --- but did Tom Brady look a tiny bit old? Did Father Time finally look as if he was catching up to Touchdown Tom? To me it looked that way; to me (and I understand they played without Rob Gronkowski) the New England Patriots look ultra-beatable. And not just for one game, but moving forward. 

They got slammed by the Titans 34-10 in a game in which Tennessee's defense looked as if it had all the answers for Brady. They blitzed him often. They disguised coverage in the back end until the very last second. The Titans battered Brady and knocked him down time and again. With it, the Patriots still rest atop the AFC East, but do so with a 7-3 record and the look of a team ripe to get picked off. 

You know what I'm getting at here? You know where this is going, right? For the life of me I can't figure out who the class of the AFC is right now. Also, for the life of me, I can't understand why --- with their current 6-2-1 record --- it might not be the Pittsburgh Steelers when it is all said and done. You follow me? You hear what I'm saying? Right now the AFC is a total crapshoot and it isn't out of the question the Steelers are that team representing the conference in the Super Bowl. At this point, if you're Mike Tomlin, you'd have to be thoroughly disappointed (barring a major injury) if you didn't make it out of the AFC. 

Here's is why...

Certainly the Kansas City Chiefs have been dominant to this point in the season. They carry a 9-1 record and are the lone team in the conference to have scored more than 300 points --- they have 353. Patrick Mahomes has been downright filthy and Andy Reid, as he seemingly does time and again, has found a way to win in the regular season. But I can't be the only one questioning if this will carry over to the playoffs. 

Will Mahomes continue on this run when the stage is brightest? Will he look down and see that "2018 NFL Playoffs" logo painted on the field and suddenly realize the scope of the games and, perhaps, frazzle just a tiny smidge? I'm not saying it is probable, but I am saying it is certainly a possibility. The weight of a playoff game --- or games --- can envelope even very good players. Also, until Andy Reid puts together a solid playoff performance against Mike Tomlin, I will always give Tomlin somewhat of a coaching advantage in that matchup. No matter what the Chiefs' record is, no matter if the game needs to be played ar Arrowhead. Simply, Tomlin in a playoff game has been better head-to-head against Reid in a playoff game. 

Are you believers in the Chargers, at 7-2? I know I'm warm on them but nothing more. I guess we will see what they are all about in a few weeks at Heinz Field. That's when a West Coast team will have to come East for a 1 p.m. start against a cold weather team in the month of December. That's a whole lot stacked up against Philip Rivers. Let's see what he can do then before the Chargers are anointed a team that can win the AFC. In that game, presumably, there will be lots of factors working against the Chargers and I'll be interested to see how they handle them. 

With six wins in a row, are you high on the Texans? Again, I think they are OK, but certainly a team Ben Roethlisberger and his bunch should score some points against but more to the point not an offense that is prone to score a ton this season against any opposition. 

You scared of the Bengals if you are the Steelers? Hardly. They just fired their defensive coordinator this morning and Marvin Lewis will make sure they don't win a playoff game, as is his annual duty. 

Who else is there in the AFC? Honestly, on a good day (and that's the key, especially for the defense) the Steelers can match up with any team in the conference. 

And that's the whole crux of this thing. Roethlisberger is getting no younger. James Conner is having what might turn out to be his career-best season. The defense appears to be getting better every week. The AFC is a jumbled mess of teams where there is, in my estimation, no true favorite who has emerged. 

Things are aligning now for the Pittsburgh Steelers. At least in this regard; things are aligning to where the Steelers have a legitimate chance at the AFC. More to the point, if you're Mike Tomlin, you'd probably be pretty disappointed this season if you don't get to the Super Bowl.