The Pittsburgh Steelers not only defeated the Green Bay Packers Sunday, they also vanquished the Grinch.
Unlike last year, the Steelers can keep a playoff berth on their Christmas wish list. In 2012, they were mathematically eliminated two days before Christmas with a 13-10 loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals.
To make the playoffs the Steelers (7-8) have to beat the Cleveland Browns (4-11) Sunday at Heinz Field. They’ll also be ringing a bell hoping some other teams can drop a little something into their bucket.
Yes, the Steelers are a needy team.
The Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) must beat the visiting Baltimore Ravens (8-7). The Bengals can earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win and a Patriots loss at home to Buffalo.
A Bengals win over the Ravens is doable for the elves at the AFC North Pole. The other two gifts the Steelers need, in addition to winning their own game, won’t be so easy to find.
The Steelers also need the New York Jets (7-8), who have no chance at a playoff spot, to beat the Miami Dolphins in Miami. The Dolphins (8-7) can make the playoffs with a win and either a Bengals win or a Chargers win. The only possible incentive for the Jets, who are 1-6 on the road, is to rally around their lame-duck coach.
If Santa Claus brings the Steelers everything they want in the 1 p.m. games, there’s still the late-afternoon game, where the Steelers need the Chargers to lose at home to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The problem there is if the Steelers are still alive at that point, the Chargers (8-7) will be, too. Needing only a win to get into the playoffs, the Chargers will have a little extra juice against the Chiefs (11-4), who already are locked into the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and could rest their starters.
Let’s face it. The Steelers have been naughty this year more than they’ve been nice, so after Santa checks his list twice it’s not likely they’ll make the playoffs
But at least this year there will be no “Bah, humbug.” Steelers fans still can leave out milk and cookies hoping that Saint Nick will come through the chimney with a playoff berth.
Even if the 2013 Steelers duplicate the mediocrity of 2012 and miss the playoffs with an 8-8 record, they’re already one-up on the 2012 team because their last game means something.
Watching last year’s season finale against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field was like seeing a discarded Christmas tree on a sidewalk in January. Steelers fans will be spared that melancholic sensation this year. There should be enough electricity at Heinz Field to light a tree, or at least more than there was in Week 17 last year.
Sure, there might be some realists who don’t want to set themselves up for a letdown. Not only is that understandable but it’s probably wise.
Even for those people who expect Sunday’s game to be the last for the 2013 Steelers, there still are reasons to watch.
Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin don’t want to suffer their first losing seasons. Even more shameful would be the Steelers’ first home loss to the Browns since 2003.
Sunday’s game also offers a last look at the pleasant surprises of the Steelers’ 2013 season, like Jason Worilds, Cameron Heyward, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and the offensive line.
A lot is coming together for a promising 2014, even if it’s too late for 2013.
According to PlayoffStatus.com, the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs are still only 9 percent. But those who show up at Heinz Field Sunday will be waving their Terrible Towels cheering on their 9 percenters.
The Steelers are playing for more than just pride on this final weekend of the regular season.
Back in September, when early Christmas music was almost as maddening as the Steelers’ 0-4 start, a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17 was the best present the Steelers could ask for.