PITTSBURGH -- The arithmetic is quite simple really. Over the next six weeks, the 7-4 Steelers have five games remaining against four opponents.
Four wins would give the Steelers 11 victories on the season, three wins would give them 10 and so on. Either 11 or 10 wins should be enough -- one would think -- to give them their first playoff appearance since 2011.
Win just two? That would be enough to also represent their first winning season since '11, but all bets are off as far as the postseason is concerned.
Obviously, the only full-proof way for the Steelers to assure themselves of a playoff berth -- and quite probably a division title -- is to win out. Realistically though that's not likely to happen. The Steelers have never enjoyed a six-game winning streak under Mike Tomlin and only three times in the coach's previous seven seasons have the Steelers won four of their final five regular-season games. Even as the Steelers were winning six of their final eight last season to get back in the playoff hunt, they still managed to lose back-to-back games in Weeks 13 and 14.
As the Steelers enjoy their bye week, they are very much in good shape. If the playoffs began today, the Steelers would be in Indianapolis facing Andrew Luck and the Colts -- a Week 8 rematch that Pittsburgh won -- in an AFC Wildcard game.
However, the road to the postseason is fraught with peril.
Each of the Steelers’ last five games is against a team either in first place in their division or tied for first coming into Week 12. The stretch run begins next Sunday at home against New Orleans, followed by at Cincinnati on Dec. 7, at Atlanta on Dec. 14, vs. Kansas City on Dec. 21 and they close out the regular season at home against the Bengals on Dec. 28.
It bears noting, though, that the Chiefs fell out of first place in the AFC West after an inexplicable loss Thursday night to previously winless Oakland (1-10) while the Saints and Falcons are tied for the NFC South lead despite having losing (4-6) records.
It also bears noting that, in addition to three home games remaining, three of the Steelers' five remaining games will be against opponents working on short weeks as the Saints, Falcons and Bengals in Week 17, will have played on the previous Monday night.
Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but here's a look at the Steelers' remaining opponents.:
New Orleans: Though they have lost two in a row, including an overtime loss to San Francisco two weeks ago, the Saints have won two of the last three against Pittsburgh. Reminder: This is a New Orleans team many thought might come out of the NFC.
Atlanta: After losing five straight, the Falcons have won two in a row heading into today's game against Cleveland. The Steelers are 1-1-1 in their last three against the Falcons and they haven't won in Atlanta since 1996.
Kansas City: The Chiefs' loss in Oakland might look even worse in three weeks after they face Denver, currently a No. 2 seed in the AFC and Arizona, the No. 1 in the NFC. Oh, and the Chiefs haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1986.
Cincinnati: Yes, the Bengals were humbled in Week 10 vs. Cleveland but Cincinnati, to its credit, has won three of its last four. Also, it might be time to recognize the Browns for the good team (about to get better) they are. The last time the Steelers reached the postseason in 2011, they swept Cincinnati and may have to do so again.
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