AFC Wild Card Race: Final Attempt for the Reigning Super Bowl Champs

Samuel Sica@@SicatheKidAnalyst IDecember 28, 2009

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 26:  Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts during the NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field on November 26, 2007 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are living by a quote made famous by New York Yankees Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” 

Week 17 will be the last chance for the Steelers to make the playoffs and defend their Super Bowl Title, but they have to get past the Miami Dolphins in order to do so.

The Steelers have been living on the edge the past few weeks, with very close victories over the Green Bay Packers and their division rival Baltimore Ravens to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Pittsburgh was sitting at 6-2 before losing five straight games to Cincinnati, Kansas City, Baltimore, Oakland, and Cleveland. The Steelers almost missed the playoffs entirely after that stretch, but thanks to back-to-back wins, the Steelers are right back in the thick of the playoff race.

Pittsburgh barely kept their playoffs hopes alive two weeks ago when they beat the Green Bay Packers on a last second touchdown pass. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards against the Packers and kept the Steelers season alive with his 19 yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace as time expired.

Last week Pittsburgh continued to keep their season alive by beating the Baltimore Ravens with a score of 23-20. The Ravens had many chances to win, thereby ending the Steelers' postseason hopes and securing a playoff spot of their own, but the Ravens were their own worst enemy and continued to make mistakes that ultimately cost them the game.

With the Steelers victory, Pittsburgh has dramatically improved their chances of making the playoffs, but they still must rely on other teams failing in order to stick around for the postseason. Pittsburgh is currently tied for the final wild card positions with the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, and Houston Texans with records of 8-7.

Pittsburgh has had a roller coaster ride so far this season. They look to end their season on a high note by beating the Miami Dolphins and hoping for other teams to lose in order to make the playoffs.

Ben Roethlisberger has had a great season thus far, completing 66.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns, and making 12 interceptions.

Rashard Mendenhall has carried the load in the running game with 1,014 yards on the ground along with seven touchdowns. The aerial attack for the Steelers has been led by Hines Ward, who has 87 receptions for 1,106 and six touchdowns, along with Santonio Holmes who has 78 receptions for 1,243 yards and four touchdowns.

The problem with the Steelers this season has not been due to their offensive output. The defense has been the main problem with the Steelers. With the loss of Troy Polamalu earlier in the season, the defense has not been the same powerhouse as it has always been. Opponents are no longer afraid to throw over the middle of the field, since the threat of Polamalu is no longer there.

Pittsburgh is lucky to be in playoff contention with the way they have been playing, but a win over the Dolphins this week could help them immensely. Miami also has something to play for, as they can still technically make the playoffs with a victory over the Steelers. The Dolphins playoff hopes are very slim, but anything can happen in the NFL, as demonstrated by the last few weeks.

The Dolphins have had many opportunities to position themselves in the playoffs, but have squandered those chances with two straight losses against teams competing for those final two wild card spots. Miami lost to the Tennessee Titans in overtime two weeks ago, and lost to the Houston Texans last week in a must-win game.

Miami has received all the help that they needed in order to make the playoffs, with teams ahead of them losing in the past two weeks, but the Dolphins forgot that they must continue to win games if they want to play in the postseason.

The Dolphins are a playoff team, in my opinion, but have lost many close games this season, hurting their playoff hopes dramatically. Miami lost to the New Orleans Saints after blowing a 21-point lead, and also lost to the Indianapolis Colts earlier in the season after controlling the ball for nearly 45 minutes.

The Dolphins are led by quarterback Chad Henne who is 7th-and-5 as a starter this season. Henne has thrown for 2,738 yards completing 59.9 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Miami has relied heavily on their rushing attack this year, but the majority of the load has been on Ricky Williams, since Ronnie Brown was injured halfway through the season. Williams has rushed for 1,090 yards and has 11 touchdowns on the season thus far.

The Miami air attack is led by Devone Bess who has 71 receptions for 673 yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins main problem is that they lack a main threat in their aerial attack. Miami needs a big play receiver to help the young Chad Henne be more effective and efficient in the passing game.

The Dolphins defense has also hurt Miami this season, forcing the Dolphins to change their game plan and score more points than they are accustomed to doing. Miami has been their own worst enemy as of late by turning the ball over and falling behind early in games, forcing the offense to throw the ball more.

Miami had one of the toughest schedules this season and they have faired pretty well despite their recent downfalls. The Dolphins have had their opportunities to make the playoffs but have not been able to take advantage of them.

The Current AFC Playoff Picture looks like the following:

1.                  Indianapolis 14-1

2.                  San Diego 12-3

3.                  New England 10-5

4.                  Cincinnati 10-5

5.                  New York Jets 8-7

6.                  Baltimore Ravens 8-7

7.                  Denver Broncos 8-7

8.                  Houston Texans 8-7

9.                  Pittsburgh Steelers 8-7

10.              Miami Dolphins 7-8

11.              Jacksonville Jaguars 7-8

The games that will affect the playoff scenario in week 17 include:

            Pittsburgh @ Miami

            Baltimore @ Oakland

            Jacksonville @ Cleveland

            New England @ Houston

            Kansas City @ Denver

            Cincinnati @ New York Jets

The Ravens and the Jets control their own destiny. If they win this week, they are both in the playoffs as the fifth and sixth seeds. If either the Ravens or the Jets lose, that opens the door for everyone else. In order for the Steelers to make the playoffs, they must have one of three scenarios occur:

1.                  Pittsburgh win + Houston loss/tie + NYJ loss/tie

2.                  Pittsburgh win + Houston loss/tie + Baltimore loss/tie

3.                  Pittsburgh win + NYJ loss/tie + Baltimore loss/tie + Denver loss/tie

Miami, on the other hand, needs a victory over the Steelers and have everyone else in front of them lose in order to make the playoffs. This scenario seems very unlikely but Miami still has a slim chance of earning a wild card spot.

I believe that Pittsburgh will win against Miami, but I believe that they will fall short in their hopes of making the postseason. I believe that the Jets and the Ravens will win, making them the fifth and sixth seeds in the playoffs, respectively.

If I had to pick one of those two teams to lose, it would most likely be the Ravens. They are playing in Oakland, and the Raiders have upset many playoff-caliber teams so far this season. If the Raiders beat the Ravens, I would say that Denver would get the sixth and final playoff spot.        


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