The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t won a game in a couple of weeks now, and are getting perilously close to being a .500 team again, currently sitting at 5-4-1 on the season. Buuuuuuuuuuut…
Things could be worse. Because the AFC is wild this year. Every team has at least three losses, and there are six teams with four losses, which is the group in which the Steelers are bundled, though that tie currently has them at a disadvantage. There are only four teams out of 16 with a losing record (compared to eight in the NFC).
Basically, the conference, and the division, really, is pretty much wide option. Nobody knows why—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acknowledged as much earlier in the week—but it’s making things interesting. “That’s why you have hope, regardless of your record. There’s a few games left, and I feel like the AFC’s still anybody’s game”, he said on Sunday night after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers—one of those four-loss teams.
Unfortunately, the Steelers currently sit just outside of a playoff spot, but just barely, and that could change this week. The three Wild Card seeds are all 6-4, those being the Chargers, the Buffalo Bills—whom they’ve already beaten—and the Cincinnati Bengals—whom they are preparing to face on Sunday.
In fact, the AFC North is going to play a critical role in the Steelers’ path to a playoff spot down the stretch, and more immediately than that, as their next two games are against divisional foes, starting with a road trip to Cincinnati, and then a home game against the division-leading Baltimore Ravens.
Roethlisberger acknowledged that the divisional play will be a big part of their playoff story. “That’s why it’s important for us to get back on track. We’ll get home late tonight, we’ll get ourselves ready to go. Divisional opponent on the road, they’re a good football team. This is gonna be a big one for us”.
And the good news is that they anticipate getting many reinforcements back, most notably edge rusher T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on defense, both of whom missed Sunday’s game.
One player they won’t have back soon is tight end Eric Ebron, who did score Sunday, but whose role had been diminished, anyway. He suffered a knee injury, seemingly on his touchdown, and is probably heading for surgery, though not necessarily season-ending.
The NFC has five teams who have three or fewer losses, and four with three or fewer wins. The 12th-ranked Denver Broncos are just two losses behind the first seed Tennessee Titans. There’s a much narrower gap between the top and the bottom in the AFC—and particularly within the middle—than there is in the NFC.
In other words, don’t expect to have much clarity until the final couple weeks of the season. Regardless of which way this goes, the Steelers are likely to be in it until the end.