At this point, with only one week left in the NFL regular season, there is still one playoff spot up for grabs in the AFC. And the Pittsburgh Steelers are among four teams working hard as the season wraps up. Had the Steelers handled their business the first month of the season, this would all be academic. However, this is the mess they have made.
The odds of the Steelers claiming the final AFC wild-card spot are long. This kind of late-season drama is just what the NFL and its fans love. However, Steelers fans have to understand, when the ultimate prize is the Super Bowl, the Steelers are the ultimate underdogs.
By contrast, the other three teams still vying for that spot are somewhat more enticing to Vegas.
|San Diego Chargers||100-1|
Let's take a closer look at these other three games and how the Steelers can sneak into the playoffs.
The Dolphins have the easiest path to the playoffs in terms of wins and losses. According to this NFL.com article, here is the path for Miami.
If the Dolphins (8-7) take care of business Sunday against the Jets, they're in at No. 6 if the Ravens (8-7), Chargers (8-7) and Steelers (7-8) win.
Obviously the Jets are playing for nothing other than to knock the Dolphins out of the playoffs, but that might be enough. The additional factor that could work in the Jets' favor is the health of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill injured his knee during their loss to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday. Reports are that Tannehill was able to practice on Tuesday, according to ESPN, but his availability is not definite. While the Jets have struggled this season, especially at quarterback, their run offense is still strong.
The Jets have also generated 41 sacks this season. Should the Dolphins have to start quarterback Matt Moore or even a hobbled Tannehill, Rex Ryan's team should be able to bring the house rushing the passer. If Ryan is concerned about his job, a late-season beatdown of the Dolphins would definitely help.
If there is a game on this slate that will be the fly in the ointment for the Steelers, it is this one. That's because there is news that the Chiefs might rest some of their starters prior to the playoffs.
It is easy to understand how the Chiefs would not want to risk injury as they near the playoffs. They have nothing to play for in terms of playoff seeding, so there is nothing tangible to be gained.
Nevertheless, that doesn't mean they still shouldn't want to win. In fact, one could argue there are two really significant reasons for the Chiefs to win on Sunday.
First is that the Chiefs and Chargers are rivals. Old-school rivals with a long dislike for one another. So why not do all you can to knock the team that you hate so much out of the playoffs? From a pride perspective, laying down to a team that already beat you once would be a point of pride for any professional football player.
The additional reason is momentum. That 9-0 start to the season is nothing more than a memory. This team is 2-4 since that start and needs to right the ship heading into the playoffs. This should give the Chiefs sufficient momentum to beat the Chargers.
This game has the potential to become the biggest of the week. Both the Bengals and Ravens have plenty to play for. The Ravens obviously need this win coupled with a Dolphins loss to secure the final spot.
The Bengals also have plenty to play for. A win paired with a Patriots loss would put the Bengals in a position to have a bye the first week of the playoffs.
In terms of talent, the Bengals are very good and working on a 4-1 streak to end the season. They have every bit as much to play for and are playing at home, which gives the Steelers hope.
Can all of these things happen? Of course. One of the best things the NFL did was make the final week of the season loaded with all division games. It means that even when you are out of the hunt, the chance to give a division rival the stink eye makes many more games relevant right up until the very end.
Which of these teams will make the playoffs?
After a season that started off like a nightmare, the Steelers have turned things around. All they can control is what they do against the Browns, and so the rest will be something they just have to sit back and watch. The Steelers were considered one of the worst teams in the league at one point, but on Sunday, they might just end up in the playoffs.
All stats provided by NFL.com unless otherwise specified.