Make no mistake, I am nothing short of stoked to know that the Pittsburgh Steelers are still alive in the race for the AFC’s final playoff spot. In my humble opinion, the fact that this team started 2-6 and is in the midst of a 5-2 stretch since that dreadful start is nothing short of remarkable.
Although the Steelers will need plenty of help on Sunday from teams around the league to nab a wild card berth, there is an outside chance that they could receive they help which they so desperately need.
The Cincinnati Bengals will definitely have something to play for against the Baltimore Ravens, especially since a first round bye in the AFC is still in play. Although they are no longer in playoff contention, the New York Jets could be fighting for pride and their potentially lame-duck head coach against the extremely pedestrian Miami Dolphins. Plus, it could benefit the Kansas City Chiefs to head into the postseason on a positive note with a victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Of course, Pittsburgh must find a way to beat the 4-11 Cleveland Browns to capitalize on those scenarios if they all managed to occur.
Beating inferior teams has been a monumental task for the 2013 Steelers, and their early-season losses are the main reasons why this team is on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC postseason race. As awful as the team’s losses to the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens were in Weeks 13 and 14, three of their defeats during their 2-6 start were nothing short of monumental bed-crappings.
Overall, the Steelers lost to the Tennessee Titans (6-9) at Heinz Field on opening day, the Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1) in London and the Oakland Raiders (4-11) for the second time in as many years in California. During those games, Pittsburgh either lost the turnover battle (Minnesota & Tennessee), missed ridiculous amounts of tackles and botched assignments on defense (Minnesota & Oakland), or simply could not move the ball on offense (Tennessee & Oakland).
What all of these games did have in common however was the fact that the Steelers came out ridiculously flat and under-prepared in each one.
During their 16-9 loss to Tennessee, the offense committed two turnovers and did not put any points on the scoreboard until there was a just over one minute left in the fourth quarter. Three weeks later, Pittsburgh’s defense spotted Minnesota a 17-point lead (34-17) before their furious fourth quarter comeback fell short. Down 34-27 with 19 seconds left, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked and fumbled inside Minnesota’s 10-yard line on a crucial third down play.
Finally, in what was their worst performance of the regular season, the wheels came off for the Steelers when they lost 21-18 to the Raiders. Pittsburgh’s gifted Oakland a 21-0 lead in the first half, and the most embarrassing moment of all was Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage. Todd Haley’s idiotic insistence on running the ball kept the offense from attacking the Raiders’ weak secondary, and two missed field goals by the normally reliable Shaun Suisham proved to be the difference in that particular game.
Make no mistake, the 2013 Browns are not a juggernaut by any means as an opponent. The Steelers thrashed them 27-11 in Cleveland almost five weeks ago, and the Browns are mired in a six-game losing streak. Although Cleveland is 4-11 and stuck in the cellar of the AFC North, Pittsburgh cannot afford to take them lightly like they did when they played inferior foes like the Titans, Vikings and Raiders.
The worst thing Pittsburgh’s players can do is enter their upcoming game brimming with overconfidence. They cannot control what Cincinnati, New York and Kansas City do on Sunday. However, they can make sure that they defeat Cleveland at Heinz Field in their regular season finale so will have at least capitalized on the potential help from those teams.
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