Believe it or not, the 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers are very much alive in the AFC North. In fact, there is no reason why they cannot win the division.
Okay, you can stop laughing now. The Steelers are one of a few teams with one win or less (along with the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons) that still have a chance of righting the ship and making a playoff push.
How will the Steelers do this season?
Any team with a quality coach, two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and a vaunted defense is never out of it until the numbers mathematically eliminate it. Going into Week 7, math has yet to end Pittsburgh’s season.
Last week against the New York Jets, the Steelers looked like a team that could stay competitive in the division. Granted, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks and the Jets are, well, the Jets.
But Pittsburgh’s defense held a team that put up 30 points against the Falcons to six points, and the offense looked serviceable against an above average defense. Getting that first win was important for reminding Pittsburgh and its fans that the 2013 season is far from over.
And who do they play next week to try to begin their first win streak of the season? None other than the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers and Ravens always bring out the best in each other, and in this case both teams are in desperate need of a win.
Joe Flacco is in usual erratic regular season form, Ray Rice is grossly underachieving and Jacoby Jones is both hobbled and humiliated. The defense is still stout, but this squad will not be scoring too many points against most teams.
They are 3-3 right now with two matchups left against the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, tough road contests against the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions and a playoff rematch with the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. With the way this team is playing right now, their ceiling appears to be 10-6.
Now let us look at the 4-2 division-leading Bengals. It is hard to make too many Bungles jokes about a team that has already beaten the Steelers and even earned wacky wins against the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots.
But who trusts anything about this team? The only sure thing is the beastliness of wide receiver A.J. Green. Any team led by Andy Dalton is subject to not being taken seriously until proven otherwise.
These guys have made the playoffs the last two seasons and lost to the Texans twice – once to T.J. Yates. Any team that has lost to T.J. Yates in the playoffs deserves to be taken with a grain of salt.
The Bengals have tough road contests on the horizon at Detroit, Miami and San Diego, plus two games against the Ravens and a Week 14 test against the Indianapolis Colts. Generously, these guys could go 12-4. But realistically, the Bungles will probably show up enough to make Cincinnati another 10-6 team.
Then there are the enigmatic Cleveland Browns. Remember when people thought that Trent Richardson trade meant Cleveland was tanking this season in an apparent attempt to take the lead in the Bridgewater Bowl? Clearly no one told Brian Hoyer, Josh Gordon or that defense.
The Browns ripped off three consecutive wins before Hoyer got hurt and the Lions reminded them who they were last week. This is a team with a talented defense, a revitalized Willis McGahee at running back and two budding superstars in the forms of Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
One player will keep this Browns team from going far this season: Brandon Weeden. Enough said.
The Browns have to play the Packers, Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs on the road. They also have two games left against the Steelers and one against the Bengals and Ravens, as well as tough home matchups with the Bears and Jets. Unless Weeden magically morphs into the second coming of Kurt Warner, the Browns are a 7-9 team at best.
That leaves the Steelers, who still have questions with the offensive line and running game. To win the division, they will have to go somewhere between 10-6 and 12-4 with four losses already solidified.
They still have to face the Ravens twice and will have tough matchups against the Patriots and Packers. The rest of schedule is not particularly difficult though, with the most challenging matchups coming against the Lions, Dolphins and Bengals.
I think the Steelers can realistically go 10-6. They probably split with the Ravens and steal one from either the Packers or Patriots. Every other game on the schedule is extremely winnable.
The Steelers’ best hope here is that the Browns start to remember they are the Browns, the Bengals bungle just enough and the Ravens do just enough to make the postseason but nothing more (which has been known to happen). If it plays out that way, the Steelers may just sneak into the playoffs and, possibly, win the division.
Will that happen? Probably not. Can it happen? As Kevin Garnett would say, anything is possible.