Pittsburgh Steelers' Playoff Hopes Still Alive

Brian CarsonCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2009

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 27:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts to a play while playing the Baltimore Ravens on December 27, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 23-20.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Football is a crazy game.

Fortunes can change in the blink of an eye. A missed field goal or dropped pass can mean the difference between victory or defeat, glory or shame.

Case in point: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Three weeks ago the black and gold were being read their last rites.

Mired in a five-game losing skid, the Steelers limped home with a 6-7 mark after losing to the Cleveland Browns on national television.

With the prospects of facing a resurgent Green Bay Packers squad and the always tough Baltimore Ravens on the horizon, all hope seemed lost.

So most of us thought.

Thanks to some amazing play by QB Ben Roethlisberger and LB LaMarr Woodley, plus a little bit of lady luck, the Steelers have won two straight and forced themselves back into the AFC playoff picture.

With the final week of the season approaching, the playoff scenario for Pittsburgh has become pretty clear.

Clear, but not easy to achieve.

The Steelers will clinch a playoff spot if any one of the following three steps is met:

1. Steelers win and Houston loses or ties and New York Jets lose or tie.

2. Steelers win and Houston loses or ties and Baltimore loses or ties.

3. Steelers win and New York Jets lose or tie and Baltimore loses or ties and Denver loses or ties.

The Steelers finish their season this weekend in Miami. Houston meets New England, the Jets play Cincinnati, Baltimore hosts Oakland and Denver goes against Kansas City.

Nothing is ever guaranteed; but on paper the Ravens and Broncos should pick up wins, leaving Pittsburgh dependant on scenario one coming to pass.

The Patriots and Bengals are still fighting for seeding position, so the starters on both squads will be in, making it very tough for Houston and New York.

None of that will matter much if the Steelers don't beat the Dolphins. And if you're a card-carrying member of the Steeler Nation, there's reason to be concerned.

The game is in Miami and Pittsburgh is a dismal 2-5 on the road, with losses coming to the likes of the Chiefs (3-12), Browns (4-11) and Bears (5-9).

Pittsburgh has played down to the competition on the road this season and must raise its game to a higher level.

Even during the two-game win streak, the effort has been shaky.

Against Green Bay, the Steelers needed a herculean effort from Roethlisberger to pull out the 37-36 victory. The Ravens ran Pittsburgh ragged in the second half, but mental mistakes kept them from victory.

The secondary is still being picked apart, especially on deep balls in the middle of the field. The corners still don't have an interception this season.

To make matters worse, veteran WR Hines Ward may not play this week due to his balky hamstring.

However, all is not gloom and doom.

The Steelers seem to have a little bit of that swagger back.

Roethlisberger is playing at a very high level and that has the offense on the upswing. Woodley has been lights out on the defensive side and youngsters like DE Ziggy Hood and WR Mike Wallace are getting better and better with increased playing time.

Perhaps no one summed up the Steelers' recent success better than one of their own.

"It's good to have a heartbeat back; it's good to have a little pulse, to see a little light," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "It's about trying to get on that roll at the right time."

The right time could be now.

Three weeks ago Pittsburgh was down to its last breath, attached to life support. Now, with renewed vigor, the Steelers have righted the ship with an opportunity at the playoffs staring them in the face.

Football is indeed a crazy game.


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