Holy cow, I can’t believe it. I mean, I knew it could happen, it was very much arguable that it should happen, but I’m so surprised that it actually did: The Pittsburgh Steelers have been locked in for the 2024 NFL Playoffs.
Now, making the postseason is a big deal for a reason, and that’s the fact that it sets you apart from the inadequates, pitting you against the higher percent of the league. As the Steelers just barely squeak into that quality of competition without best player T.J. Watt—and without asserting themselves over a telling opponent either the past few weeks or all season—they may not do much (if anything) with the opportunity.
But nonetheless, yinzers nationwide are just happy to have it—though none of them are happier than head coach Mike Tomlin.
Despite how the media praises him for consistently coasting atop the bare minimum, Tomlin has been a subject of great controversy in the Steel City for years now, with this one being no exception to the rule.
It took a late QB change (that he got criticized for taking so long to execute) to give the Steelers offense new life, and even then it ultimately took outside influence to get them in the bracket. Especially when considering this is the third year in a row where Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes have hung on that kind of help, it should be rather obvious why his job security has become an increasingly common debate topic.
For a while now, I’ve been one of the more vocal doubters on this issue, throwing Tomlin’s worth into question quite soon after the Steelers started 11-0 in 2020. In the time since then, I've been pushed to the point of placing him in the hot seat after this season—give him a bar to hit next year, and if he doesn’t, buh-bye.
Oddly enough, the bar I had in mind had two parts: 1) Finish the regular season with a double-digit win count and 2) Make the playoffs. With Pittsburgh officially having done both, it’s safe to say that some of the pressure is off, but not all of it.
What conditions should be in store for Tomlin going forward?
If I had gone public with my demands for Tomlin and he met them, I would not have been enraged if the playoff berth went nowhere. Rather, I would have simply wanted at least one playoff win the next year. With that said, a postseason victory this season would [obviously] grant him more mercy, and any success beyond that would pile it on from there.
However, if the Steelers end up being a first-round exit (especially by a convincing margin), the berth will mean significantly less going into their 2024-25 run, as it would portray them as being all the more lucky—and all the less deserving—of having stumbled into the luxury. But anywho, let’s give this picture a frame.
We’ll keep things simple: No matter what, I feel that Mike Tomlin’s job should now be secured until January of 2026. I’ve also had a change of heart when it comes to win count requirements; if you’re making/competing in the playoffs, no one’s really going to care about the regular-season journey. That just leaves the postseason results to think about.
If Buffalo kicks the Steelers out of this current bracket right away, I feel that he’s allowed a non-playoff season in 2024-25. As for the year after that, he needs to make the bracket and win at least one game in it or I’d can him.
If the Steelers get one or more wins in this bracket, then he’s allowed to miss the playoffs next year and doesn’t have to worry about his boys getting a postseason win in 2025-26. He does have to worry about them getting a postseason berth, though; if they can’t even get that, I’d can him.
So to summarize, the combination of a late boost under Mason Rudolph and Tennessee’s upset over Jacksonville bought Tomlin a little bit of room for error, but not much—just one year’s worth. This is because the standard has continued to drop as we dive deeper and deeper into his tenure as head coach, and because we know that playoff potential lives within Pittsburgh on a consistent basis.
Especially with Matt Canada out of the way and the future of Pittsburgh’s quarterback situation looking brighter and brighter, asking Tomlin to unlock more of said potential is in no way a tall order.