The final week of the NFL regular season is upon us, and all you need to know is the Pittsburgh Steelers still have a shot at the playoffs. OK, that's not all you need to know, but this is the big story of the week.
Standing between the Steelers and the playoffs are the Cleveland Browns, along with several games that must fall into place (more on that later).
The Steelers will roll into their season finale with a home matchup against a 4-11 team who've already lost to the Steelers once this year. The Steelers have a formula for beating the Browns and will need to repeat it on Sunday.
Here's an initial look at what you need to know for Week 17.
|AFC North Standings|
What a mess, right? By virtue of last week's games, the Bengals have clinched the AFC North. This means the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are battling for the final AFC Wild Card spot with two other teams (really, more on this later).
David Todd of 970 ESPN Pittsburgh sent out this Tweet on Monday following head coach Mike Tomlin's Monday press conference about the injuries from last Sunday's game.
Tomlin: Injuries-Garvin knee sprain, questionable. Manny lateral minisces questionable. Wheaton finger fracture. Worilds abdominal injury.— David Todd (@DavidMTodd) December 23, 2013
The status of these players will be more evident as the week goes on. Needless to say, if players like linebacker Jason Worilds and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders can't go, there will need to be significant changes to the game plan on both sides of the football.
The addition of an injury to wide receiver Markus Wheaton would create a very thin wide receiver corps and would force the Steelers to incorporate tight end Matt Spaeth into the fold to a greater degree.
Adversity and overcoming injuries have been a benchmark of this Steelers team. With so much on the line, it will be time for the next man to step up, whether it's rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones or rookie wide receiver Derek Moye, plays will have to be made.
Here is a quick look at the permutations required for the Steelers to make the playoffs.
|AFC Playoff Picture|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Must Beat Cleveland Browns|
|Baltimore Ravens||Must Lose to the Cincinnati Bengals|
|Miami Dolphins||Must Lose to New York Jets|
|San Diego Chargers||Must Lose to Kansas City Chiefs|
What Must Improve?
For as great as the run game was last Sunday, the passing offense struggled. At this point pretty much every game is going to be played in adverse weather, so that's no excuse. The Browns defense was quite porous in terms of points allowed.
If the Steelers want to play their part toward their playoff push, it could come down to Ben Roethlisberger slinging it down the field to wide receiver Antonio Brown and whomever else they trot out onto the field.
Steelers fans could see a very different offensive scheme on Sunday. More two-tight end sets with shifts and motion to force man coverage from the Browns. This is where Roethlisberger can win down the field.
All stats provided by NFL.com.