Do you feel at least a little better now Steelers fans?

The Steelers went into the offseason last year, prior to the start of free agency, with just $6 million in available cap space.

Ben Roethlisberger’s contract restructure created additional room, but not enough for the Steelers to fill all the holes they had.

Some restructures and, later, the release of David DeCastro, created some additional space, but the Steelers weren’t buyers on the free-agent market. They couldn’t afford to be.

They’ve started rookies at running back, center, left tackle and tight end for most of this season. They had an undrafted player seeing his first NFL playing time at left guard for the past month.

And they made the playoffs.

This is what a rebuild looks like for the Steelers, folks. This is why you don’t “just blow it up,” as so many suggested last spring.

This team, in the middle of a rebuild – though they’ll never use that word – made the playoffs. That’s one of the goals each season.

You can’t win the Super Bowl if you don’t get into the playoffs. By definition, getting into the playoffs makes you a Super Bowl contender. You’re one of the final 14.

That still won’t be good enough for some. But this team swept the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. It beat the Bills in Buffalo in Week 1 and knocked off the top-seeded Tennesse Titans last month. It beat the Seattle Seahawks in another game that featured a 2020 division winner.

There were some good moments. There have been some ugly times to be sure. But enjoy the playoff game.

This season began with the Browns in Kansas City openly talking about how they were playing the Chiefs in the first of two meetings this season.

Turns out, the Steelers are getting that rematch with the Chiefs. The Browns are all headed golfing – or, perhaps to make a few more TV commercials.

Things could be worse. The Steelers could be the Colts, who traded a first-round pick in 2022 – along with a third – to the Eagles to acquire Carson Wentz. They then paid Wentz $22 million – to not make the playoffs.

n At its heart, the NFL is entertainment. And if there was a more entertaining regular-season Sunday in recent history than what happened last weekend, I can’t remember it.

Here’s guessing a lot of televisions in the Pittsburgh market were tuned in to the Sunday night game between the Chargers and Raiders.

In fact, there were probably more TVs in the Pittsburgh market turned to that game than in any other. After all, nobody in Los Angeles cares about the Chargers, while the Raiders are the football version of a nomad.

Either way, that was high drama with that game going to overtime with the Steelers’ playoff fate hanging in the balance.

n Say what you will about JuJu Smith-Schuster. He’s often worried about his brand and dancing, among other things.

But don’t question his toughness or desire to be there for his team.

The fact Smith-Schuster was back practicing this week with a real shot at playing this weekend against the Chiefs after having shoulder surgery in early October shows that.

This week’s picks

Steelers (plus 12½) at Chiefs: The Steelers lost the turnover battle 3-0 in their 36-10 loss to the Chiefs in Week 16. Kansas City outscored them 17-0 off those turnovers. They had three games out of 17 in which they had at least that many turnovers. So, chances are, that won’t happen again. The defense also has played better the past two games. The Steelers aren’t likely to win, but they’ll keep it within two scores. Take the Steelers to cover in a 26-17 loss.

Raiders (plus 5) at Bengals: The Raiders played an emotional overtime game Sunday to get into the playoffs. The Bengals were able to rest starters, having already wrapped up the AFC North. Neither team has much playoff experience, so that won’t matter. Take the Bengals, 31-20.

Patriots (plus 4) at Bills: These teams split in the regular season, with each winning on the road. But the Patriots’ win came in gale-force winds in a game in which rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw just three passes. That won’t fly in this game – no pun intended. Take the Bills, 24-16.

Eagles (plus 9½) at Buccaneers: There are heavy rains in the forecast for this game, which doesn’t bode well for the Bucs, who are banged up at running back. And strong defensive lines give Tom Brady fits. Tampa Bay also is missing some key receiving threats. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing. Take the Eagles to cover in a 24-20 loss.

49ers (plus 3) at Cowboys: This is a bad matchup for the Cowboys. The 49ers can rush the passer and slow Dallas’ rushing attack. And San Francisco’s running game will be an issue for the Cowboys, who live off turnovers, particularly interceptions. You can’t throw interceptions if you don’t throw the ball. Take the 49ers, 23-20.

Cardinals (plus 4) at Rams: Another division rematch. And both teams won on the other’s field this season. This might be the toughest game to pick of the weekend as both teams have had their ups and downs. In that case, take the points. Take the Cardinals to cover in a 27-24 loss.

Last Week: 4-1 ATS, 2-3 straight up; Overall: 36-53-1 ATS; 54-37 straight up.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!

Thank you for reading!

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading. If you have a subscription, please Log In.