Dare we dream? Two in a row for the Steelers!
Two in a row is possible. So are three consecutive wins. But for the Steelers to win often enough in their final 11 games to put themselves into the playoffs is a staggering mountain to climb. It's not impossible. Just close.
The Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, two former members of the NFL elite, play this afternoon at Heinz Field. The Steelers are 1-4, the Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champions, are 3-3.
Although the Ravens have the clear edge in the record, their performance has not been that superior to the Steelers. In fact, the teams have been something approaching mirror images of themselves. Neither team can mount a running game, neither can protect its quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 18 times in five games, Joe Flacco 19 times in six games. The Steelers are 31st in the NFL in rushing, the Ravens 27th. Baltimore's lowly status in the running game is the more surprising of the two because it returns Ray Rice, one of the most versatile backs in the NFL and a three-time Pro Bowl selection, who is coming off four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
The Steelers' 19-6 win over the New York Jets last week has fostered some hope among the faithful, but truth be known they will have to do better than that if they hope to run down the long odds against them getting back in the playoff race.
For the Steelers to win -- to raise their record to 2-4 -- it will require a better performance than they came up with against the Jets. They can't consistently allow touchdown opportunities melt into field goals. Their point total against the Jets included four field goals.
It was enough to beat the Jets. It won't be enough to resurrect their season.
Last week was a mere first step in the Herculean task facing the Steelers, as they attempt to become a factor in the AFC North and win for a playoff spot. They are fourth in the North Division, trailing Baltimore and Cleveland, both 3-3, and Cincinnati 4-2.
Assuming that 9-7 might be enough to win the division or earn the second wild-card spot, the Steelers must go 8-3 in their remaining 11 games. Some might suggest that is impossible. For the sake of discussion, let's just say it's extremely daunting. Better yet, for a team that is 3-9 in its past 12 games, make that super-extremely daunting.
With road games at New England (Nov. 3) and Green Bay (Dec. 22) looking like losses, the Steelers margin for error is exceedingly slim. They also must play on the road at Baltimore (Nov. 28) and have Cincinnati, to whom they've already lost, at home on Dec. 15.
Which means a win this afternoon is virtually mandatory for there to be any hope remaining in the season.
The other six 'easier' games on the schedule are: Oct. 27 at Oakland, Nov. 10 vs. Buffalo, Nov. 17 vs Detroit, Nov. 24 at Cleveland, Dec. 8 vs. Miami, and Dec. 29 vs. Cleveland.
The Steelers are the longest of longshots. If they lose to the Ravens this afternoon, a distinct possibility, they'll be doing what many fans said several weeks ago: Playing for draft position.
First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM