The AFC playoff picture is taking shape, and it looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers have a solid chance of sneaking in as the No. 6 seed.
Who would have thought two months ago that the Steelers would still be alive in the playoff race? After losing to Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Vikings in London on Sept. 29, it appeared as though the then 0-4 Steelers were doing everything in their power to tank the 2013 season.
Since then, they have won four out of six games, including Sunday’s victory against the Detroit Lions when Dick LeBeau’s defense effectively shut down Calvin Johnson for three quarters (those six receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns notwithstanding).
Since either the Denver Broncos or Kansas City Chiefs probably have that No. 5 seed locked up (unless something silly happens), the Steelers are battling for the No. 6 seed. Right now, Pittsburgh stands at 4-6 and appears to be the best of the teams still alive in the AFC playoff race.
Which team will earn the AFC's No. 6 seed?
If the playoffs were to start today, the 5-5 New York Jets would take that final spot. Nipping at New York’s heels are the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills and, last but not least, the Steelers.
As it stands, this Steelers team appears to be the best equipped to make a playoff push. With a healthy and motivated Ben Roethlisberger, renewed faith in the running game thanks to Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown emerging as a fantasy god and a defense that refuses to let age get in its way, this is the squad that should still be playing come January.
The Steelers still have some tough games left on their schedule, including a rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals and a trip to Green Bay to take on the Packers with a presumably healthy Aaron Rodgers. They will also face the Ravens again, the Browns twice and the Dolphins.
Those last four should all be victories without too much trouble. If they can steal a win from either the Bengals or Packers, the Steelers will probably make the playoffs at 9-7.
Take a quick look at the other teams in this race, and it becomes apparent why Pittsburgh appears to have the easiest road to a playoff appearance.
The Jets are inconsistency personified. They go from beating the New Orleans Saints to getting blown out by the Bills. It is hard to put your faith in any team quarterbacked by Geno Smith and one that is currently the only team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses through 10 games.
Plus, the Steelers have already beaten these guys and have the tiebreaker against them if necessary. Expect the Jets to tap out at 8-8.
The 5-5 Dolphins are still reeling from the losses of three of their starting offensive linemen, two of whom are currently under investigation in a sprawling bullying scandal. With matchups remaining against the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Steelers and Jets (that alternating magic will prevail in Week 13), the Fins will be lucky to squeak by at 7-9.
The 4-6 Raiders showed some life last week with Mike McGloin at quarterback, but then again, they are now starting Mike McGloin at quarterback. Their remaining schedule is brutal: Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys, Jets, Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos. Good luck with that gauntlet McGloin. Put these guys down at 6-10 at best.
Pittsburgh already has one win over the 4-6 Ravens and can sweep them on Thanksgiving. Considering Baltimore’s offensive line issues and sharp declines from Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, this team does not appear to have enough firepower to challenge for a playoff spot. Even if this team does manage a 9-7 record, the Steelers should be able to get past them via tiebreakers.
The 4-6 Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns are currently starting Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jason Campbell at quarterback, respectively. Moving on.
Buffalo is an interesting team. The 4-7 Bills always seem to be competitive no matter who they start at quarterback, which is impressive considering they were playing Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel for a while. Of course, the Steelers already beat them. One more loss and they will more or less be knocked out of contention.
The 4-6 Chargers would be a legitimate threat to the Steelers if their schedule was not so insanely difficult. Their last six games are against the Chiefs twice, Bengals, Giants, Broncos and Raiders. The decently talented Chargers might become victims of a tough schedule. They look like an 8-8 team at best right now.
Assuming the Steelers take care of business, everything should fall into place for them to land that No. 6 seed. Steelers Nation, get those towels ready.