The Pittsburgh Steelers are out west today visiting the Oakland Raiders, against whom they are hoping to end a two-game losing skid as they recalibrate for the final quarter of the season. On paper, this figures to be the ‘easiest’ game remaining on the schedule, so in that sense might even be viewed as a ‘must win’.
At 7-4-1, the Steelers have just a half-game advantage over the Baltimore Ravens for the lead in the AFC North. The Ravens are sitting at 7-5 after a three-game winning streak with Lamar Jackson starting at quarterback.
There are also currently four other teams in the AFC with a record of .500 or better that could threaten the Steelers should they slide, which is quite possible with the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints on the horizon, who have five losses on the season between them.
The Tennessee Titans are 7-6 after being the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, while the Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, and Denver Broncos are all 6-6. Most concerning should be the Broncos, who already beat Pittsburgh. The final four games are on the road against the 49ers and Raiders and then at home against the Browns and Chargers.
And the Broncos have already beaten the Chargers this season, though it’s worth noting that Los Angeles is actually undefeated on the road so far in 2018. If Denver manages to win out, however, then the Steelers could very well be in trouble if they don’t handle their own business. That would have to include at least one win against the Patriots or Saints.
The Colts’ final four games do them little favors. Of them, two are divisional games on the road against the Houston Texans and the Titans. They also host two teams from the NFC East in between, including the division-leading Dallas Cowboys, who like Indianapolis have been playing better recently after a slow start.
As for the Titans, their only remaining road game is against the New York Giants a week from today. After that, they wrap up in Tennessee hosting a Washington team that is down to Mark Sanchez at quarterback and then hosting the aforementioned Colts.
While the Steelers still have a two-game advantage over these teams in the loss column, they had better start looking over their shoulder, particularly at the Broncos and Titans, because they have more favorable schedules.
With two upcoming games against top teams after today, it’s nearly essential for the Steelers to come out of Oakland with a win. Preserving their lead both in the division and in the Wildcard race may depend upon it.
The good news is that the Ravens still have to play both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, both on the road. They are in Kansas City today. if Baltimore can’t get over those hurdles, then the Steelers can breathe a bit easier, but even then it’s still not a sure thing.