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The Pittsburgh Steelers Are The Most Dangerous Team In The NFL Playoffs

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

The Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were going home early after last week’s game versus the Baltimore Ravens. The team looked lifeless, the passing game looked off and the defense was getting burnt by a bunch of backups that the Ravens had on the field. The Jets, meanwhile, were looking good. They beat the New England Patriots at home and only had to beat the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Steelers have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL and were thought to be out of the playoffs. But in one week, the situation for the playoffs changed in the Steelers’ favor. The Jets went to Buffalo to face their old coach, Rex Ryan. And in their effort to play spoiler, the Bills knocked off the Jets 22-17. Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Steelers handled business and knocked off the Browns 28-12 to go into the playoffs. And now a team that many thought were done is back in the playoffs. And just like that, some trepidation just came from teams in the AFC.

The Steelers have not played consistently all season. The perfect example is their last two games of the season. They showed up against the Browns today but mailed it in against the Ravens the week before. But what scares many is the weapons that they have. Through good drafting, they have created the best wide receiving corps in the NFL. Their best receiver (and arguably the best receiver in the NFL), Antonio Brown, does a little bit of everything. He may not be the tallest of guys, but he uses his quickness, route-running and smarts to make things happen each and every game. You would think that most teams would put more coverage towards him, but the Steelers have another weapon on the opposite side that craves attention from defenses as well. Second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant has been getting it done ever since he returned from his four-game suspension to start the season. He has over 700 yards receiving in the ten games he played and he also accounted for six touchdowns. He scored his touchdowns in a myriad of different ways just like his counterpart, Antonio Brown. For a guy his size (6’4”) he is very fast and is a homerun threat from any point on the field he catches it. And as we all saw, he took some short passes the distance and he also burned defensive backs on deep patterns. These two are dangerous, but what takes this wide receiver corps to the next level is the development of wide receiver Markus Wheaton. The third-year wide receiver from Oregon State is enjoying his best season as a pro. Wheaton has accumulated almost 700 yards receiving despite having twelve less receptions from last season and he also has doubled his touchdown production (up to four from two touchdowns last season). And like Bryant and Brown, he can take it to the house from any point on the field. Guarding these three can make any defender sweat a little more. And with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger extending plays a lot, their opponents are often at their mercy.

The wide receiving group has been downright scary all year long. But there is one other guy that helps make this team as dangerous as they are. In the offseason, running back DeAngelo Williams was deciding where he wanted to play. He was no longer with the Carolina Panthers and wanted to go somewhere that he had a chance of winning. The place he chose was Pittsburgh, as he agreed to a two-year deal worth $4 million. It was thought that he would get some playing time in his first two games due to Le’Veon Bell being suspended for the first two games. Williams performed well in those first two games, averaging over 100 yards rushing in those two performances while scoring a total of three touchdowns. But when Bell was back, it was expected that he would go back to his backup role. But when Bell went down for the season on November 1st against the Bengals, Williams resumed the role as the starter. And it seems the Steelers have not even missed a beat. Williams has been the biggest bargain in football this season, giving the Steelers 899 yards rushing and scoring 11 touchdowns. Not bad for a guy that was not expected to have this much of the workload this season. He was injured against the Browns in the season finale, but it is expected that he will play in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. His running gives the Steelers offensive balance and makes defenses have to play the Steelers honest. And just like Le’Veon Bell, he can also be effective in the passing game, where he averaged 9.3 yards per reception and totaled 354 yards.

The Steelers’ offense is one of the most explosive in the league. And they will have to be on top of their game to make up for their defense, which has not been as tough as they usually are (ranked 22nd overall and 30th against the pass). If the Steelers’ defense is able to get at least three or four stops a game in the playoffs, then they will be in the driver’s seat and the pressure will shift to the opponent’s offense. And in the playoffs with the pressure picked up, the battle-tested Steelers have some players that have been to there before. The team no one wanted to see in the playoffs has made it. And with that, the Steelers are the most dangerous team in the playoffs.

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After Week Four, The Reinforcements Are Back In The NFL

Greg Hardy is one of six players returning in Week Five that could have a big effect on their teams. (photo courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

Greg Hardy is one of six players returning in Week Five that could have a big effect on their teams. (photo courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

Week four of the NFL is complete and with that, there are a few players that will be re-joining their teams. Here are the players coming back this week from suspension: San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain and Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe. All of these players will definitely have an impact on their teams, but which one will have the biggest impact? Let’s take a look and see.

(photo courtesy of USA Today Sports)

(photo courtesy of USA Today Sports)

Antonio Gates

The veteran tight end has been out the first four games due to him violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Chargers without him have gone 2-2 so far this season without him and they have been outscored by 15 points this year so far. In adding Gates, it brings back a familiar weapon to San Diego while also adding another player defenses have to worry about. With the extra attention he will receive, he will help open up things for guys like wide receivers Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson. Ultimately, he will have an effect on this team, but without him they have been where they would normally about be on offense. This addition will have some effect, but not enough to change their record in a huge way.

(photo courtesy of www.star-telegram.com)

(photo courtesy of http://www.star-telegram.com)

Greg Hardy

The physically-gifted defensive end is coming back to a Dallas Cowboys team that is losing players left and right. After serving a four-game suspension for his off-field issues, he is back to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. And with the state of the Cowboys, they need him desperately. The Cowboys are without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant offensively and they have no one that can create consistent pressure defensively. He instantly adds someone that teams have to gameplan for and, when motivated, can make some big noise for the Cowboys up front. Look for him to be a huge gamechanger for the Cowboys defense. If he can stabilize the Cowboys front line, then they can potentially steal some games while missing some bigtime players.

(photo courtesy of Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(photo courtesy of Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Martavis Bryant

The second-year wide receiver out of Clemson was suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. What some thought would be a breakout year for him has started with the disappointment of his suspension. But with his return, there are some positive things that come. Outside of Antonio Brown, the Steelers have had one consistent wide receiver when his number has been called: Darius Heyward-Bey. It’s scary that the guy who formerly was criticized for having no hands is their second most-consistent wide receiver. With Bryant back in the fold, now the Steelers have all their weapons to help backup quarterback Michael Vick lead this team while Ben Roethlisberger is out. Bryant, who has been in rehab himself during his four-game ban, will have a huge impact on this team and will give Brown some relief that he can count on.

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Sheldon Richardson

Richardson has been out serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Without him, the Jets have gone 3-1 and have looked better than they have in a couple of years. And defensively, they are making some big plays and intimidating opposing offenses with their aggressive style. One thing that may have happened with Richardson’s absence is the thought that they can move on without him because of 2015 1st round draft pick Leonard Williams. Although Richardson will add more bulk and pass rush to this team, he may not be a huge difference-maker because he will have to work his way back into the rotation. Richardson may be on thin ice with the Jets after this suspension and the other offseason stunt involving him driving a car like he is Mario Andretti with a kid in there.

(photo courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

(photo courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

Rolando McClain

McClain was someone the Cowboys took a flyer on last season. After trading for him from next to nothing from the Ravens, the Cowboys ended up getting the best part of the deal. McClain ended up being one of the Cowboys best players last season as they surged into the playoffs. With his return coupled with Hardy coming back, the Cowboys now have some pieces in play to make some things happen. And what makes this pickup even more important is that Sean Lee suffered a concussion against the New Orleans Saints. With his injury history, the Cowboys could not be happier to get McClain back. Looking at the Cowboys linebacker corps without McClain and maybe down Lee, they would be in trouble. His return is huge for this team.

(photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

(photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

Derek Wolfe

The Denver Broncos are 4-0 after dispatching of the Minnesota Vikings Sunday and there are still some questions about this team. But for the Broncos, there are definitely no questions about the defense at all. They have been relentless under the leadership of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller have been great coming off the edges. And with the addition of Wolfe to this team, the Broncos just got that much more dangerous. But the thing that most have to wonder is how he will fit in. The Broncos are already four deep up front at the defensive end position and it’s almost like he is the odd man out. But what could be dangerous is if Phillips comes up with a scheme that could utilize all four of them or maybe three at a time on the field together. Now that would be something there. But unfortunately, that may be something that happens in Fantasyland. Wolfe may not have much impact at all since the defense has been rolling without him.

All of these players will have some effect one way or the other with their teams once they return, but there are some that will have more of an impact than others. Hardy and McClain are the most needed for Dallas while Gates and Bryant are a sight for sore eyes for their team’s offenses. And as far as Wolfe and Richardson, they could find themselves as the odd men out or potential trade bait. We will see what happens, but with these guys back, things just got a little more interesting.

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