Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Take Heart

Not to sound an alarm, but the Steelers are at risk of not making the playoffs.

Psych! Not really. Just wanted to get your attention.

However … the Steelers very conceivably could lose two of three to wind up being the sixth seed – just like they were in 2005, and we all know how well that worked out.

Just looking ahead for a moment … Jacksonville, with the same 9-4 record as the Steelers, always plays the Steelers tough and definitely could win in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Cleveland (8-5) could just as easily run the table and win the division outright, if the Steelers lose two of their final three games. Cleveland hosts Buffalo (6-7), visits Cincinnati (5-8), and plays at home to San Francisco (3-10) in their season finale. All three games are eminently winnable for the Browns.

Given the Steelers’ performances against the Cardinals, Jets and Dolphins, nobody should presume they will beat the St. Louis Rams (3-10). They should, but given how they’ve played down to inferior competition this year, it’s not a gimme. Then in the last game of the season, division-rival Baltimore (4-9) on the road is always tough.

So, if the Steelers lose to the Jag-you-ares on Sunday, beat the Rams and lose to Baltimoreand if Cleveland wins all three of their remaining games, the Brownies win the division, if Cleveland finishes at 11-5 and the Steelers finish at 10-6.

The resurgent San Diego Chargers (8-5) have a relatively easy schedule with winnable home games vs. Detroit (6-7) and Denver (6-7) and a road game at Oakland (4-9). They could easily finish 11-5 to move ahead of the Steelers as the fifth seed, if the Steelers lose two of three and the Browns win all three.

For all that, the Steelers almost certainly have at least the sixth seed locked up. Even if the Steelers somehow finish at 10-6, they should make the playoffs. Buffalo, currently at 7-6, is the next best long shot, but the Bills already have five losses in the conference (vs. three losses in the conference for the Steelers). Ditto the Tennessee Titans (7-6), also with five losses in the conference. (Note: The intra-conference record is the first tie-breaker of consequence in this convoluted scenario).

And, if the Bills knock off Cleveland, it’s almost certainly a moot point: The Steelers should win the AFC North.

Besides, the Steelers will win all three of their remaining games. Right?

Footnote: Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls knew the Bawl’more Ravens were struggling, but we didn’t realize to what extent. Brian Billick’s minions are riding a seven-game losing streak and are 1-9 against AFC teams. One and nine. Yikes. Bill Cowher probably is discussing the soon-to-be head coaching vacancy with Baltimore management right now.

That would be fun.