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Labriola on scenarios, Heath, Bradley

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Ready or not, here it comes:*

  • Just went to Google and typed in "2014 NFL playoff scenarios." Got 366,000 matches in 0.58 seconds.
  • You can waste a lot of time poring through those links, many of which are based on predictions, and then if those predictions don't come true, you've wasted even more time.
  • There is only one scenario involving the Steelers that doesn't involve any predictions or speculation: If the Steelers win their final four games, they will win the AFC North. At 11-5, the Steelers would win a tiebreaker over 11-5 Baltimore with a better division record; and they would win a tiebreaker over 11-5 Cleveland with a better conference record.
  • On the heels of its win in Baltimore last Sunday – a 1 p.m. kickoff, by the way, which meant it was 11 a.m. for the guys from the West Coast – San Diego is back to being a popular pick to make the playoffs. The 8-4 Chargers currently are on a three-game winning streak, they're one-game behind Denver for the lead in the AFC West Division and seeded as the No. 1 Wild Card team heading into this weekend's games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

  • But the Chargers may not win another game. They host New England, then Denver, then play at San Francisco, and at Kansas City. Based on that remaining schedule, could anyone be surprised if San Diego finishes 8-8?
  • On Wednesday, it seemed as though the Ravens just might be the team to beat in the AFC North, mainly because of a schedule that looked to be easier than Pittsburgh's or Cincinnati's or Cleveland's. At Miami, vs. Jacksonville, at Houston, and vs. Cleveland. Not a great quarterback in the bunch, either, to take advantage of a Ravens secondary that's part of a defense ranking 31st in the league in passing yardage allowed per game.
  • Less than 24 hours later, it's no longer about the quarterbacks for the Ravens. It's about the running backs, because by then the NFL had announced the suspension of defensive lineman Haloti Ngata for the final four regular season games because of a violation of the performance enhancing drugs policy.
  • Instead of Ryan Tannehill and Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, the Ravens' challenges became Lamar Miller (729 yards, 4.9 average), Denard Robinson (4.4 average), Arian Foster (901 yards, 5.0 average), and Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell (a combined 977 yards, 4.1 average)
  • That's just one example of why it's impossible to predict how December is going to unfold.
  • He was an unsung hero of Super Bowl IX and the anonymous guy in the No. 38 jersey during the ceremony at halftime of the game vs. the Saints honoring the 40th anniversary of the first championship team in Steelers history. His name is Ed Bradley, and what he did in that Super Bowl was fill in at middle linebacker for the injured Jack Lambert. Before the first half of that game ended, Lambert was injured and out of the game. In his spot, Bradley was credited with three tackles, and with him as the middle linebacker, the Steelers defense allowed 6 yards rushing and 43 net yards of offense during the entire second half.
  • Ed Bradley just might have been the very first example of the standard being the standard.
  • What that 1974 Steelers defense accomplished becomes more amazing with the passage of time. Seasons were 14 games back then, and the unit recorded 52 sacks and had 47 takeaways.
  • The four-man defensive line was responsible for 43 of those 52 sacks, which meant there was rarely any need to blitz. The three starting linebackers – Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell – combined for as many interceptions (eight) as sacks.
  • No wonder the NFL changed the rules three years later.
  • Back to the here and now. Heath Miller has played over 97 percent of the offensive snaps through the first 12 games of this season. He played every snap of five games – at Cleveland, vs. Indianapolis, vs. Baltimore, at the New York Jets, and vs. New Orleans. And tight end is hardly a non-contact position, what with working the middle of the field on pass plays and blocking defensive linemen and linebackers on running plays.
  • Heath Miller is 32 years old and having another fine season. Indispensable, almost.
  • On the Monday before the game against the Saints, there was a lot of excitement around the Steelers' facility because of the return to practice of four players who had started on defense back on opening day. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Ryan Shazier, and Jarvis Jones all practiced that day, and the idea of getting them back for the stretch run energized all of Steelers Nation.
  • Then after the loss to the Saints, Taylor admitted to being rusty after two months on the sideline with a broken forearm, and his play reflected that. This week in Cincinnati, Shazier figures to see some action after missing seven of the last nine games with knee and ankle injuries.
  • Getting players back, especially players who had been starters, is always exciting, but the reality of their performance immediately upon their return rarely lives up to the expectation.
  • Keep that in mind whenever Jarvis Jones comes off IR-designated-to-return and is added to the 53-man roster.
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