An NFL team with a 3-6 record usually has little more than token hope for a miracle playoff run, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have something to play for, improbably.
When the Detroit Lions come to Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon, the Steelers will be a win away from having some serious influence in the AFC playoff race. Following its victory over Buffalo last week, Pittsburgh is two games behind the 5-4 New York Jets for the conference’s final wild-card berth.
While the Steelers still have six teams in front of them in the chase for the AFC’s No. 6 seed, if they can top the 6-3 Lions they have back-to-back games against mediocre AFC North foes Cleveland and Baltimore to further make up some ground. Getting to 6-6 by the end of November seems like a tough task, but if the Steelers do get there they will be at least even with the Browns and Ravens.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the Jets will lose ground over the next two weeks, as they have the Bills and Ravens up next on their schedule. The group at 4-5 (Miami, Tennessee, San Diego, Cleveland, Baltimore) isn’t particularly inspiring, but then again, the Steelers haven’t been either. Then there’s the matter of Oakland, also at 3-6 and holding the head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh.
Starting an NFL season with four straight losses and six in the first eight games is almost a guarantee of an empty postseason. Fortunately for Mike Tomlin’s group, the AFC playoff chase has fallen short of scintillating so far.
A team that has failed at least three so-called “must-win” tests this season will face another at 1 p.m. Sunday. It’s a near mathematical certainty that another defeat in such a spot will make 2014 a lot more relevant for the Steelers than 2013, if it isn’t already.