x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Pittsburgh lose the plot

Describing the Pittsburgh Steelers over the last 12 months as going from heroes to zeroes may be a bit harsh but it is not a million miles away from the truth.

Describing the Pittsburgh Steelers over the last 12 months as going from heroes to zeroes may be a bit harsh but it is not a million miles away from the truth. The start of the year saw them grind their way through the play-offs to reach Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals. A dominant second-half performance by the Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald had the Steelers on their heels in what looked to be a shocking Super Bowl upset for the second straight year.

However, the Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger kept his cool and led them to a dramatic last-gasp victory, finding a tiptoeing Santonio Holmes in the end zone with just 35 seconds remaining and etching Pittsburgh into the history books with their record sixth Super Bowl. This season has proved a different story. At 6-2, the defending champs looked well on their way to another promising post season, but five straight losses and inconsistent play by an otherwise reliable "Big Ben" had the Steelers reeling and fighting to nab one of the AFC wildcard spots.

Instead the AFC North has belonged to the Cincinnati Bengals, who captured their second division title in five years. Heading into the final week of the season, with the play-offs just around the corner, the teams to beat are undoubtedly the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. Both had perfect records through the first 13 games of the season, only recently falling in what have proven to be meaningless games since they have clinched the top play-off seeds in their respective conferences.

The Colts are looking for their second Super Bowl ring in the Peyton Manning era as he has again put up tremendous numbers, throwing for 4,405 yards and 33 touchdown passes. Meanwhile, the Saints' quarterback Drew Brees is hoping for his first trip to the Super Bowl. Other contenders include the New England Patriots, who are no strangers to the post-season and have seen flashes of brilliance from the quarterback Tom Brady on his return from injury. And the full emergence of Aaron Rodgers, along with a surprisingly strong young defence, have made the Green Bay Packers a team no one wants to face at this point.

Other stories of the year saw Brett Favre put off retirement for a second successive season as 40-year-old the Green Bay legend signed up with his former arch-rivals the Minnesota Vikings and led them to the NFC North title, while the quarterback Michael Vick returned to the NFL in largely low-key fashion with the Philadelphia Eagles after his prison term for being involved in running a dog-fighting ring. @Email:gcaygill@thenational.ae