Pittsburgh Steelers: Why Weeks 8 and 9 Will Decide Their Season

Jonathan AndradeContributor IIIOctober 25, 2011

The Steelers could run away with the AFC North this year.
The Steelers could run away with the AFC North this year.Karl Walter/Getty Images

The roller-coaster ride that Pittsburgh fans have become accustomed to so far this season will either take a turn for the worse or the better in these coming weeks.

Games against the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens will prove to be the most important games left on their seemingly weak remainder of a schedule.

After getting knocked around in their season opener to their AFC North foes, the Steelers took the Ravens beating as a wake up call.

Since then, the Steelers have gone 5-1 with big wins against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Both teams have given the Steelers some trouble in the past, and solid wins against both teams puts the Steelers in a good position to take the North.

Barring a late-season meltdown, the only teams that stand in the Steelers' way are the Pats and Ravens.

The Patriots come in to Heinz Field with a 5-1 record to face the defending AFC champions. The Pats are coming off a much-needed bye week after barely squeaking by a struggling Dallas Cowboys team, 20-16, in Week 6.

New England's NFL-leading pass offense will finally put the Steelers' No. 1-ranked pass defense to the test, and if the Steelers continue to move the ball through the air as well as they have as of late, they will look to exploit the Pats' NFL-worst pass defense.

If the Pittsburgh secondary can slow Tom Brady, there's a good chance the Steelers can find themselves ahead on the scoreboard when the clock hits zero.

Since their horrific play in Week 1 ended in a 35-7 embarrassment at the hands of Joe Flacco and the Ravens, the Steelers have had Week 9 marked on their calendars.

The Ravens' ever-dependable defense has shown its usual dominating numbers once again, but all bets are off when these two teams meet up. Baltimore would love to get the season sweep, but Pittsburgh will have the playoff mentality going into this game.

After these important dates are dealt with, the Steelers' remaining schedule is comprised of four combined games against their reeling younger siblings of the division, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.

The Steelers also have to face a young 0-6 St. Louis Rams team and an unpredictable Kansas City Chiefs team that's managed a 3-3 record against mediocre foes.

The lone game that may have upset alert written all over it is against a San Francisco team that's coming off a big win against the Detroit Lions. Although the Niners have some tests to deal with before the matchup with Pittsburgh in Week 15, a solid ground game from the Niners can pose a problem for the Steelers' front seven. But with a frail 49ers secondary, don't expect much from the San Fran defense.

Injuries and rehab times will surely play a vital role in the remainder of the season for Pittsburgh and its hobbled line, but the schedule sure does make it seem inevitable that the Steel Curtain will return to the playoffs come January.