Going into this weekend, I thought if the Steelers lost to the Raiders, their chances of going to the playoffs would be over. I looked over the conference standings yesterday, however, and realized that might not be the case.
Let's just assume the four division leaders: Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, and New England will make the playoffs.
Denver is now 8-4 and in the last four weeks, they will play Indianapolis, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Kansas City. Jacksonville is 7-5 and they will play Miami, Indianapolis, New England, and Cleveland.
There are then four 6-6 teams: Baltimore, Miami, NY Jets, and Pittsburgh. The Steelers will play both Baltimore at home and Miami away. The Steelers will also play the Packers and they play the Browns on Thursday. If the Steelers can win out, they could pick up the six spot in the division.
The biggest concern will be the Steelers conference record if there's a tie break with another 10-6 team. Right now the Steelers conference record is only 4-5, but if they win out it will go up to 7-5. Denver's current conference record is 6-3, Jacksonville is at 6-2, and the Jets at 5-5 (I'm only mentioning those three because they're the only teams that could bump the Steelers from the playoffs if they win out). So, even if Denver only wins 2 of 4 down the stretch (lets say they lose against Indianapolis and Philadelphia), they would still beat out the Steelers in a tie break. Jacksonville plays four conference teams down the stretch, so the Steelers woul need them to lost at least two of those games in order to jump them, but with games against Miami, who beat New England on Sunday, Indianapolis, and New England, they could very well go 2-2 and finish 9-7. The Jets play 2 AFC teams, the Colts and Bengals, as well as two NFC teams, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. All the Steelers need is for them to lose 1 of those 4 games.
So, the Steelers need not only to win out, but also get some help. It seems unlikely, but if you remember when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, they had to win their last 4 games and get some help to just make the playoffs.
The pain is it looks like not only will Polamalu not play on Thursday against the Browns, Hines Ward will likely not play either. But, if the Steelers can pull out the win against the Browns on Thursday, they will have a week and a half to prepare for a tough game at home against the Packers.
I really need a Steelers win on Thursday just to keep my sanity after the Steelers lost 4 straight and Pitt lost their last two games against WVU and Cincinnati (especially after they way they lost this one).