A late season bye could be what the Pittsburgh Steelers need to make a run at the AFC’s top seed.
Tied with Houston in the AFC with seven wins, Pittsburgh has a very favorable schedule over the final six weeks of the season.
Coming off the bye week, the Steelers travel to Kansas City, where the Chiefs will be without quarterback Matt Cassel. While Arrowhead is a tough stadium to play in, Tyler Palko will likely be starting for Kansas City, and he strikes fear in no one.
Cincinnati proved to be a formidable challenge, and they will once again try to prove themselves this week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers will be rooting hard for the Bengals to give the Ravens their fourth loss.
After losing to the Ravens twice this season, Pittsburgh will need Baltimore to drop a game or two in addition to taking care of their own business.
If Pittsburgh can sweep Cincinnati, they have a short week to prepare for the Browns, who are the only losing team in the AFC North.
The Thursday night game should easily favor the Steelers unless, of course, there are high wind conditions. If you remember back to 2009, Bruce Arians inexplicably had Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball 32 times in very windy conditions.
Pittsburgh would go on to lose this game 13-6, eliminating them from playoff contention. Do not expect a slip up this year.
What seed will the Steelers earn?
The benefit of the Thursday night game will be that the Steelers have over a week to prepare for the surprising San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco continues to impress every week behind a very good ground attack and the top-rated rushing defense.
Pittsburgh will have to take advantage of the 49ers weak passing attack and pass defense. However, the cross country trip will make this a difficult contest.
There is a quick turnaround with a Saturday afternoon game against the St. Louis Rams, which is very winnable. In fact, playing at home against a very weak Rams team, the Steelers would have to completely look past them to lose. Then again, any given week any given team can win.
Pittsburgh closes out the season on New Year’s day at Cleveland.
The final six opponents currently have a combined record of 26-28, with only Cincinnati and San Francisco having winning records.
If Pittsburgh can win at least five of their six games, and yes, they are all very winnable, that would bring them to a 12-4 finish. The best case scenario is obviously to win out and put them in excellent position heading into the playoffs.
By winning their remaining games, Pittsburgh would still need at least one loss by Baltimore and one by Houston.
Baltimore is up and down and can lose any week. They have laid eggs this year against some very bad teams, and it would not surprise me to see that happen at least one more time.
Meanwhile, the Texans are in a bad spot without quarterback Matt Schaub. They can get by with their ground attack and defense, but at some point, new quarterback Matt Leinart will have to make some plays.
The bottom line is that the Steelers will have to take care of their business. The bye week should help them get LaMarr Woodley and Emmanuel Sanders back to health, as well as provide their veterans with some time off before the final month and a half of the season.
Look out if the Steelers get that top seed in the AFC. If they do, they will be primed for another Super Bowl run.
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