Pittsburgh Steelers Still Very Much in Playoff Hunt

Todd FlemingAnalyst IDecember 18, 2009

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 06:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tries to get around the tackle of Michael Huff #24 the Oakland Raiders during a first quarter run on December 6, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Steelers' playoff hopes have been written off.  This is understandable since they have struggled so mightily over the last five games. 

But it is still premature.  They really don't need any miracles to get into the playoffs.  If they win out (which might be the biggest miracle required), they'll have a decent shot.

They are solely playing for the sixth seed at this point and are competing for that last spot against a bunch of average teams who lose on a regular basis.  In fact, all of the teams competing for the final spot lose as often as they win. 

This is the factor that is too often being overlooked.  Not only is it possible that most of the teams competing for the final spot will lose one to two more games, it is likely.

And the Steelers have lost a lot of very close games.  They are certainly capable of beating the three teams who they still have on their schedule.  In fact, now that they think they are out of contention, I expect that they will beat the Packers.  Just a hunch.

The Steelers will likely benefit from the tougher competition the next three games will deliver.  This is a team that seems to shine against better opponents.  There isn't a Chiefs, Raiders or Browns in the bunch.

If the Steelers win out, they will finish ahead of the Dolphins.  It is a mathematical certainty, so they control their own destiny in that case.

What else do they need to happen?

They need the Jaguars to drop one more.  With the Patriots on deck, this seems likely.  The Patriots may be struggling a bit, but they are better than the Jaguars and need the win.  If the Jags get by the Patriots, the Browns will be the last line of defense.  The Browns are improving and are capable of beating the Jags at home.

The Steelers need the Jets to lose twice, which sounds more daunting that it is in reality.  The Jets finish against Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati.  While they probably will win one of those, I don't think they'll beat both Atlanta and the Bengals, especially since the Bengals may still be playing for playoff positioning at that point.  

The Steelers need the Ravens to lose to either the Raiders or the Bears.  This is the least likely of the scenarios, but the Ravens are a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team.  They are quite capable of losing to either of those squads.  In fact, I'd be mildly surprised if they beat both teams based on their up and down tendencies.

The Steelers will not get much help from the tiebreakers unless they finish tied at 9-7 with either the Dolphins or the Broncos, but not both.  They own the first tiebreaker against both teams but would lose in a three-way tiebreaker situation.

In fact, the Steelers will lose in nearly all three way tiebreaker scenarios.  But, the Broncos are not likely to lose out so that probably isn't going to happen.

If the above scenarios happen, the Steelers will sneak in.  As crazy as it sounds, they actually have an easier road to the playoffs than they did in 2005 following their three game skid that year.

Can lightning strike the same team twice?  Sure, why not?

So, it is still too early to talk about resting starters in favor of younger players.

Keep the faith, at least until the Steelers lose one more.