Point-Counterpoint: Are the Steelers the best team in the AFC?

Have you seen, like, every other NFL team? 

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts
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The Steelers begin the homestretch of their 2017 season tonight against the Tennessee Titans and, if you’ve spoken to any of your Pittsburgh sports pals about the local team this season, you know that the Steelers are either legit Super Bowl contenders or they are … an overrated trash team who should fire everyone.

So which is it? Let’s break it all down the best way to argue anything, with short paragraphs of writing, offset with bolded headlines and large photographs. To the format!

Point: The Steelers have a lot of flaws.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts
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Boy, do they. The offense is painfully inconsistent and not all that explosive anymore despite being loaded with talent. The defense, while much improved, is young and unproven to the point that it can’t yet be relied upon to carry a team through the playoffs … and it suffered a big blow to the patchwork secondary last week when Joe Haden fractured his leg. And, perhaps above all, the Steelers still are prone to play down to inferior opponents, meaning another bad loss (or two) probably hangs out there — which will doom their chances for home field through the AFC playoffs.

Counterpoint: Have you seen, like, every other NFL team?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars
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Hey, maybe don’t only watch the Steelers for once, fella/fellette. Every team in the league has major issues, and most (all?) have issues bigger than what the Steelers face. Where do you want to start? The Jaguars? The team tied for first in the AFC South? Yes, they beat the Steelers earlier this year, but they’re quarterbacked by Blake Bortles. And their head coach is a man who felt it wise to have BLAKE BORTLES throw the ball *51* times last Sunday. I’ll take the Steelers over a Blake Bortles-led team in the playoffs.

The Eagles? The team with the best record in the NFL? They have beaten absolutely no one so far thanks to a weak schedule. They also have a horrific secondary. (Editor’s note: Their safeties are good, and they get corner Ronald Darby back this week. Alas … )

The Patriots? The reigning Super Bowl champs? They continue to have major issues on the defensive side of the ball, Rob Gronkowski appears to be on the decline, and Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks have failed to produce any chemistry. Yes, the Steelers look bad from time to time, but 31 other NFL teams usually look worse. This 7-2 start is the best of Mike Tomlin’s time in Pittsburgh.

Stop complaining, jerkface.

Point: The Steelers can’t win a Super Bowl with this Ben Roethlisberger.

While Roethlisberger’s words to the media often miss the mark, he has been a very accurate passer throughout his career, hitting on more than 64 percent of his passes. This year, however, that has dropped to 61 percent — his lowest mark since 2008 — and that’s with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster alongside the excellent Antonio Brown. But no stat or metric can capture Roethlisberger’s decline like the scoreboard. Despite having Brown, Smith-Schuster, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant (when he feels like playing) at his disposal, Roethlisberger and the Steelers are 19th in the league in scoring and have yet to put up 30 points in a single game.

The friggin’ Los Angeles Rams, quarterbacked by Jared Goff and coached by an 11-year old boy, have scored more than 30 six times this season. I mean … what? The Steelers squandered the final years of Roethlisberger’s prime with a weak defense. And now, with the defense rebuilt, it’s simply too late to be real contenders.

Counterpoint: Yes, Ben can.

No, Roethlisberger is not the player he once was. But his game-winning drive last week against the Colts (see Point No. 1 about the Steelers playing down to inferior opponents) proved he can still find the magic when it’s necessary. I’m honestly not sure how many other quarterbacks I’d take in that situation, even here in the Season Of Our Lord 2017.

Plus, let’s not forget some of the other quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls in recent years: zombie Peyton Manning, zombie Peyton’s little brother Eli, Joe Flacco, almost Matt Ryan. I’ll take 85-Percent Ben Roethlisberger over any of those scrubs.

Point: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is an idiot.

Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger and one of the best offensive lines in the game. And yet the Steelers still struggle to get in the end zone? The Pirates will win a World Series before this guy gets an offense to a Super Bowl title.

Counterpoint: Todd Haley is better than the Pirates.

"Counterpoint..."

"Counterpoint..."

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I mean, come on. Let’s be reasonable.

But…the point above? The one about how Todd Haley might be an idiot on account of how he’s done the impossible: made the most talented offense in the NFL into a unit that averages just 20 points per game? You could be onto something there.

Point: None of this matters if the Steelers don’t beat the Patriots on Dec. 17.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons
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The Steelers could play Landry Jones at quarterback the rest of the regular season and they’d still win the AFC North with ease. But winning a bad division is not the franchise’s goal. They want to win a seventh Super Bowl title. Unfortunately, the Patriots stand in their way. (And, by the way, if the Patriots win another Lombardi this year, they tie the Steelers for the most with six. START TO PANIC.)

Are the Steelers capable of beating the Patriots? Sure, if they play well. And more importantly: if they play at home. But on the road? Remember last year’s AFC title game humiliation? New England would be a double-digit home favorite in the playoffs this season. That’s why the Dec. 17 regular season matchup is so important.

If the Steelers lose that, they’ll likely have to go through New England — or more precisely, the New England town of Foxborough, Mass., — in order to reach the Super Bowl. Not going to happen. Sorry.

Counterpoint: Yeah, maybe.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
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Getting home field is huge for the Steelers. There’s no way to argue against that. HOWEVAH … the two Patriots losses this year came at their shopping center/stadium: Week 1 versus the Chiefs and then in Week 4 against Carolina. Brady is no longer unbeatable there. And the Steelers have beaten quality teams in both the Chiefs and the Lions on the road so far this season.

The Steelers, with a solid game from Roethlisberger (ideally calling his own plays and not running Haley’s), a defense that is much improved from the unit that went into New England last January and — most important — a healthy playoff Le’Veon Bell for the first time ever, could beat the Patriots on the road in the playoffs.

I mean, JuJu found his bike, didn’t he? Anything is possible.