The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in the thick of the AFC's cluttered and unpredictable wild-card race. Sunday's last-second thrilling victory over the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens may have saved Pittsburgh's 2021 campaign from ending in utter disappointment. There is still work to be done, but Pittsburgh remains firmly in the hunt.
It's been a rather uneven season for Pittsburgh, who has largely relied on breathtaking performances from their star players to keep them afloat. Stud outside linebacker T.J. Watt is in the midst of experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime year, having already totaled a career-high 16 sacks in just 10 appearances. Watt's sack totals become even more remarkable when considering he missed two games earlier this season due to injury. General manager Kevin Colbert awarded Watt with a four-year contract extension worth more than $112 million with $80 million guaranteed in early September. The shiny new payday made Watt the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, and the former Wisconsin standout is already earning every penny.
Watt enters Thursday's crucial primetime contest against the Minnesota Vikings just seven sacks shy of surpassing the all-time single-season sack record set by New York Giants great and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Michael Strahan (22.5 sacks) in 2001. With five games to go and considering that Watt has been virtually unblockable all season long, we love his chances of surpassing Strahan's all-time record and cementing his status as an all-time great.
Taking a peek at Pittsburgh's remaining schedule reveals several opponents that currently rank in the bottom 10 of the sacks allowed category. It sets Watt (and the Steelers) up favorably.
The AFC North-leading Ravens have allowed a league-high 43 sacks this season, and Pittsburgh will see them in the final week of the regular season when Watt could perhaps be threatening to break the record. The Cleveland Browns have allowed 34 sacks thus far and star right tackle Jack Conklin is now out for the remainder of the campaign. Watt will pin his ears back against Cleveland in Week 17. A matchup with the Tennessee Titans looms large in Week 15. The outcome of that contest will have a profound impact on the AFC's playoff picture and starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked on an astounding 33 occasions. All of these upcoming opponents have had great difficulties protecting their quarterback in 2021 and make for ideal adversaries for Watt and Co. down the stretch.
Fans of all 32 franchises should appreciate what Watt is currently achieving. It's not every year we get to witness true greatness in its purest form, and those are the rare, elite levels Watt is currently reaching.
Following Watt's chase to make history as the regular season winds down is going to make for an enthralling exercise. It's one that has an excellent chance of ending fondly for Watt due in part to his unique ability, will, and sheer determination.