Given that the Patriots and Jets already won their matchups on Thursday, and that the Steelers themselves played badly and picked up a 19-16 win against the Bills that they didn’t particularly deserve, the results throughout the AFC were favorable to the Steelers on Sunday.
True, the Ravens beat the Bucs 17-10, with Joe Flacco passing for 289 yards. Baltimore’s win kept the Steelers tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North, both with 8-3 records. But the messy AFC South and West races only got messier Sunday. The Chargers intercepted Peyton Manning four times en route to a 36-14 win in the night game, and the Colts fell to 6-5. And before that, the Jaguars lost 24-20 to the Giants and also fell to 6-5. The only team from the South or West that even has a 7-4 record right now is the Chiefs, who beat the Seahawks 42-24 behind 173 yards rushing from Jamaal Charles.
Basically, the power in the AFC is very heavily concentrated in the East and North, with two teams in the East at 9-2 and two in the North at 8-3. What this means is that even if the Steelers can’t beat the Ravens in the standings (and next week’s game against their rivals will be critical in determining whether they can), they’ll have a very, very clear shot at a wild-card berth. It feels tough to be optimistic about the Steelers’ chances after what we saw today, but the eight wins they already have plus a rather weak remaining schedule are two very good reasons to have hope.