Oct 27, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (88) scores a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the fourth quarter of the game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Raiders defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-18. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff aspirations fall into long-shot category


The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t missed the NFL playoffs in back-to-back seasons since they spent three straight postseasons at home from 1998-2000.

But after an 8-8 season in 2012 and their 2-5 start to this year, it’ll take a monumental finish for the Steelers to avoid emulating that unsavory slice of franchise history. Pittsburgh’s 21-18 loss in Oakland on Sunday was doubly damaging, since the Raiders would now hold the head-to-head tiebreaker should the two teams end up tied at the end of the season.

With their latest discouraging defeat, the Steelers find themselves tied with Houston for the second-worst record in the AFC – only 0-8 Jacksonville is behind. As bad as that sounds, this is worse: Pittsburgh may trail sixth-seed San Diego (4-3) by “just” two games, but there are six teams separating the Steelers from the nearest playoff position.

The 4-4 Jets are the primary challenger to unseat the Chargers next week, while Tennessee, Baltimore, Oakland and Miami all sit at 3-4. Cleveland and Buffalo, both 3-5, also are percentage points ahead of the Steelers and Texans.

So it doesn’t look good from a purely mathematical standpoint. As far as the Steelers’ upcoming schedule is concerned, there are some small reasons for hope. Next Sunday’s trip to New England will be challenging, but if Pittsburgh can grind out a win there, possibilities start to open up.

The Steelers host Buffalo and Detroit at Heinz Field on Nov. 10 and 17, respectively, then they battle the Browns in Cleveland on the following Sunday. All of those are games Pittsburgh should be favored in, for what that’s worth.

If the Steelers can find their way to Baltimore on Thanksgiving night with five or six wins in the bank, things could get interesting for the final month of the season. If not, it’ll be quite the rarity for Pittsburgh pro football – a meaningless December.

The Steelers don’t look primed for a November surge, but they’re probably not as bad as their record shows. If some positive regression is in store for the next four weeks, the season isn’t as over as it looks.

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