The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers might be bleeding in a ditch, but they still have a playoff pulse.
A loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night would officially pull the plug on the Steelers’ playoff chances, but despite a previous report in this space, the Steelers (5-8) cannot be knocked out of the playoff race before Sunday night.
In our account of the Miami Dolphins’ 34-28 win over the Steelers Sunday, we said that a Dolphins win over the New England Patriots Sunday afternoon would mathematically eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention.
Apparently our math needs a little work. It also would help to know advanced calculus when trying to figure out the NFL playoff picture.
Sure, the Steelers would benefit from a Patriots win in Miami. The Dolphins (7-6) own the tiebreaker over the Steelers and an eighth Miami win would reduce the Steelers’ playoff odds to that of winning a nine-figure lottery jackpot and meeting the Pope in the same day.
So Steelers fans must hold their nose while rooting for the hated Patriots Sunday. Such is the tangled web the Steelers weave when they start a season 0-4.
And a New England win Sunday is just one part of the Rube Goldberg-like sequence of help the Steelers need to make the playoffs. Of course they must do their part by beating the Bengals Sunday, the Packers at Green Bay in Week 16 and the Browns at home in Week 17.
There will be a lot of scoreboard watching in Week 15 both before and after the Steelers’ game against the Bengals, and it begins Thursday.
Here are the games that affect the Steelers, and what must happen to give fans a little bit of an emotional springboard heading into Sunday night’s game against the Bengals:
San Diego (6-7) at Denver (11-2); Thursday, 8:25: The Steelers want a Broncos win here. If the Steelers win their last three and the Chargers lose one more, the Steelers will have a better conference record and would win any head-to-head tiebreaker against the Chargers.
New England (10-3) at Miami (7-6); Sunday, 1: As we said, the Steelers are pulling for the Rob Gronkowski-less Patriots here. If the Dolphins beat the Patriots and either win or tie one of their last two (at Buffalo, home against the Jets), the Steelers can forget about playing in January if they haven’t already.
New York Jets (6-7) at Carolina (9-4), Sunday, 4:05: It would seem obvious the Steelers would want the Panthers to beat the Jets, but if the Dolphins win the early game it gets a little tricky. If the Dolphins win Sunday, the Steelers would need the Jets to go 2-1 in their last three games including a win at Miami in Week 17. Why? It’s so complicated that it’s not worth discussing unless the Steelers still have something to play for next week. If they do, get out your pencils, notebooks and slide rules. But for now, go Panthers.
Arizona (8-5) at Tennessee (5-8); Sunday, 4:25: The Titans hold the tiebreaker over the Steelers by virtue of their Week 1 win in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers would finish ahead of the Titans if they win their last three and Tennessee loses or ties one of its last three. So go Bruce Arians and Rashard Mendenhall.
Baltimore (7-6) at Detroit (7-6); Monday, 8:40: If the Steelers lose Sunday night, this game won’t matter. But if they win, that will get a few more Western Pennsylvanians watching this game and cheering on the Lions. Two more Ravens wins knock out the Steelers, but the Ravens have a brutal schedule the rest of the way. They host New England in Week 16 and are at Cincinnati, which could be playing for a first-round bye, in Week 17. It will be tough for the Ravens to get two wins, but even tougher for the Steelers to get three wins.
Considering their chances, it’s actually quite silly to spend any time figuring out how the Steelers can get into the playoffs. A much saner way for Steelers fans to emotionally approach Sunday night’s game is remember the Bengals eliminating the Steelers from postseason contention last year with their 13-10 win at Heinz Field.
The Steelers can’t let the Bengals stamp out their playoff hopes on their turf two years in a row. It’s a matter of pride, which is essentially all the Steelers can play for now.