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Injury Bug in AFC North Opens the Door for Steelers

During the past week, untimely injuries to key players on the Steelers’ AFC North rivals have created an unexpected opportunity for the Black-and-gold. With the Cleveland Browns losing Deshaun Watson last weekend for the season and the Cincinnati Bengals losing Joe Burrow for the season on Thursday night with ligament damage to his wrist, the Steelers’ next two games — previously viewed as major roadblocks — suddenly might be reclassified into the always-tenuous “should-win” category.

While the misfortunes of Pittsburgh’s divisional foes definitely look like welcome news for a Steelers defense which has been pulling more than its weight through nine games, this opportunity also tends to place even greater pressure on Kenny Pickett and the offense. Instead of squaring off against a pair of leading NFL quarterbacks in the next two games, Pickett will be competing against Cleveland backup and 2023 fifth-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Jake Browning, a former undrafted free agent who hadn’t completed a single pass in the NFL before his Thursday night performance against Baltimore.

Despite these upcoming games being on the road, Ohio is an easy travel destination for Pittsburgh’s mobile fan base — a factor which should further lessen their rivals’ home-field advantage. Coupled with the opportunity this presents to stack divisional wins and keep pace with the high-flying Ravens, the Steelers certainly can’t afford to fall down, particularly on offense.

Pittsburgh has a realistic opportunity to build what might represent a bulletproof 10-3 record during their next four games against the Browns, Bengals, Cardinals and Patriots. At the same time, they have an equally promising opportunity to give their improving cadre of young players substantial, additional experience in meaningful games. At the very least, the planets appear to have aligned for the Black-and-gold in a manner which seemed highly improbable when the season began.


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