A lot has been made of the past two weeks in Steeler Nation. The overwhelming reaction seems to be, “The Steelers won’t win another game, fire Tomlin/Arians/Ligashesky, trade the defense, Ben has lupus, etc.” I hate to say something this, but how spoiled is the Steeler fanbase? The team has lost two straight games. Four on the year. The last time we lost four games in a season, we won the Superbowl (just sayin’). After the jump, I’m going to tell you how and why the Steelers can and will be in the playoffs.
Let’s start with the two losses the Steelers have suffered in the last two weeks. They lost to Cincinnati which, barring the debacle against Oakland on Sunday, has proven to be a solid football team that has its collective eye on a playoff run. I realize the Bengals are typically one of the two whipping-boys in the division, but this is a different season for them. They’ve proven they’re a legitimate contender, and there isn’t much shame in losing to them. Especially when the game was close, and the Steelers could have one. That means they’re still on or near the level of the best team in the division.
As for Kansas City, there are really no excuses for that. Every phase of the game failed multiple times. The Steelers handed over a game to a team fighting to have an identity. There isn’t really anything positive to take away from that, but you know what? It’s one game. If you think the Steelers can’t rebound from this loss, wake up.
As it stands right now, the Steelers are 6-4 with six games left to play. With the league’s current standings, the Steelers are the sixth-seeded team in the AFC. That’s a playoff berth, and it means the Steelers control their own destiny. That’s not so much of an issue with six games left to play, but nevertheless, we’re going to break down the Steelers’ remaining schedule and the teams competing for wildcard spots (this is, of course, assuming Cincinnati stays ahead and wins the division, which could easily not be the way the season ends).
Next week is a huge game at Baltimore. The Ravens are 5-5 and trying to fight their way back into the playoff race. Being that they’re both a division rival and AFC competition, this game means more than any other on the schedule. Steelers win this one and the rest of the schedule isn’t nearly as daunting.
Win or loss, Oakland comes to Heinz Field after that. They’re poised to play spoiler as they did for Cincinnati, and it’s never a good idea to overlook a team (obviously). That said, it’s still the Raiders. If the Steelers play the way they’re capable of playing, they’ll dominate.
Steelers travel to Cleveland the next week. Win.
Green Bay, while 6-4, became a lot less dangerous this week. The Pack has lost both Al Harris and Aaron Kampman to IR and that kind of blow to their defense will be hard to deal with for such a young team. Plus the game is at Heinz Field, and this is another extremely winnable game. Polamalu should theoretically be back around this point, and that’s just more good news.
Baltimore comes to town after that, and let’s say that realistically the Steelers have gone 3-1 in this stretch so far. Baltimore games are the best games of the season, hands down. At home, I’ll give the Steelers the advantage. 4-1. Overall record here would be 10-5. Still seem like the Steelers can’t make the playoffs?
Last game of the 2009 season (technically in 2010 for some reason) is in Miami. By this time I expect Miami to have completely imploded and be playing for next season. Plus I can’t help but think the players on the Steelers will have an easy time getting up for a trip to Miami in January. Expected finish: 11-5. Eleven wins is usually enough for a playoff spot.
The Bengals have maybe the easiest schedule in the world down the stretch. They should make short work of the Browns, Lions, and Chiefs. The Chargers and Vikings should both be able to beat the Chiefs, and the Jets may very well be fighting for a spot in Week 17 (basically if they win out at this point). The Jets game is the variable here, but assuming the worst, Cincinnati will finish 11-5 with the AFC North title by virtue of sweeping the Steelers in the regular season.
Last year, the only thing separating the Ravens from the Lombardi Trophy was the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens this year don’t look anything like last year’s squad that made its memorable playoff run. However, their schedule looks very manageable the rest of the way. They have the two games against Pittsburgh, and let’s say they split 1-1 in the series. They have games in Oakland and Green Bay and are home for the Lions and Bears. That could still shape up to be 5-1 down the stretch if Baltimore plays to their abilities. That would put them at 10-6, behind the Steelers. And that’s assuming they can travel to Lambeau and come away with a win, which is up in the air, but we’re looking at worst case scenario, basically.
The Dolphins don’t have a lot of staying power in my mind, but the good news is that they play the Texans and Jaguars, both being competition for wildcard seeds. They also play the Steelers, which gives Pittsburgh a chance to knock off a contender if they’re still in it by season’s end. Tennessee and New England should beat the ‘Fins fairly easily and if all goes as planned, they’ll finish 7-9 and miss out on the postseason.
Right now the Jaguars are the fifth seed, but their schedule is a bit tougher. They still have games against the Colts and Patriots and are competing with the Dolphins and Texans for a spot. Throw in a few pretty meaningless games against San Fransisco and Cleveland and the Jaguars look like a 9-7 team, maybe 10-6 at best. More than likely, they will end up behind the Steelers when January gets rolling.
The Monday Night loss to the Titans helps our case, but they have the luxury of playing the Seahawks and Rams for two wins, with actual competition from the Dolphins and Jaguars, and two losses against the Colts and Patriots. We’ll say they finish 3-3 over the next six weeks and finish 8-8, missing the playoffs again. Even at best, they could go 9-7 or even 10-6 with an upset over a team that will likely be resting and the Texans will go one for season without postseason football.
The Broncos are starting to look like the team we expected this season. They play the pitiful AFC West which includes two games against the Chiefs and one more against the Raiders, and their remaining three games are against the Giants, Eagles, and Colts. At best the Broncos could finish 10-6 at this point. Even if they managed another win, the Steelers hold the regular season tiebreaker and Denver will most likely be on the outside looking in.
So there you have it. It’s awesome that the Jags, Texans, and Dolphins all have yet to play each other while the Steelers only play the Ravens in terms of competition. That said, I’m giving the Ravens the best chance of making the postseason, just because it’s hard to imagine them missing out after last season. The fun thing about football though, is that you don’t know who will end up on top. All we can do is try to stop worrting and have that our team will get it done. And they have a chance on Sunday Night to take a major step in that direction when they go to war against the Baltimore Ravens. It couldn’t be more fitting. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here We Go.