Entering Week 18, the Pittsburgh Steelers are far from having a playoff berth locked up. In addition to requiring a win on the road in the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers also need a Jaguars or Bills loss on Sunday to secure a spot in the postseason.
Over the past two weeks, it has been Mason Rudolph at the helm for the Steelers as Kenny Pickett recovers from ankle surgery. I don't think many expected to see the performances we have from Rudolph over the past two weeks.
In his first two NFL games since 2021, Rudolph's offense averaged 32 points per game on offense and over 400 yards. The veteran quarterback also managed an impressive passer rating of 115.3 during this span -- the highest in the NFL.
It's a small sample size, but convincing enough to believe that Rudolph would be named the starter for the season finale against the Ravens in Week 18, and possibly into the playoffs (if the Steelers find themselves in the postseason this year).
However, recent comments from Kenny Pickett suggest this is not the case. Pickett spoke to the media on Tuesday where he insisted that he would have been the starter against the Seahawks in Week 17 if the trainers and medical staff thought he was good enough to go. Instead, Pickett didn't dress for the game in Seattle.
Kenny Pickett thinks he will start when healthy, but the Steelers may have other plans
If the Pittsburgh Steelers take care of business against the Ravens on Saturday and get the outside help they need from the Titans or Dolphins on Sunday, Pickett's comments suggest that he would be the starting quarterback for a playoff game.
Pickett has been medically cleared to play -- which makes his status as the number two quarterback this week all the more interesting. If he is now healthy enough to enter the game in the event of an injury to Mason Rudolph, theoretically, he should be healthy enough to start against the Ravens.
Obviously, this comes down to a decision for Mike Tomlin. Pickett cannot simply declare himself the starter when he thinks he is healthy enough to return. If the Steelers make the playoffs, Pickett will be five weeks removed from the ankle injury -- more than enough time to make a return to the field. But don't count on that being the case.
If Rudolph has his third straight impressive game to close out the season in Baltimore in Week 18, it's going to be really hard for Tomlin to make the decision to go back to Pickett (considering the time he has missed and how mediocre his second season has been).
At the end of the day, Kenny Pickett can assume whatever he would like. His comments that he would be the starter if healthy seem to indicate that Pickett would start for the Steelers in the playoffs. But with the way Mason Rudolph has played, I'll believe it when I see it.
Of course, there's a chance that we don't even get to see this scenario play out. Pittsburgh only has a 29 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they do find their way into the tournament, you can bet that this will be the biggest storyline of the week for the Steelers media.