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NFL Playoff scenarios: Outlook still decent for Steelers

The last two weeks have been unkind to the Steelers, but if Ben Roethlisberger can return reasonably soon, they still have a good shot at the playoffs.

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

Yes, the Steelers just turned the ball over eight times in a loss to the 2-8 Browns. And yes, they've got a road game against the Ravens on the docket this week. But it's not time for Steelers fans to panic, because a Wild-Card berth is still very much in sight.

Unfortunately, it will be tough for the Steelers to make up enough ground against Baltimore to win the AFC North outright. The Ravens have the division title all but sewn up. And the Steelers have plenty of more immediate problems, like the fact that they seem lost without Ben Roethlisberger. But assuming Roethlisberger can return to action within a reasonable time frame, the Steelers still have a good shot.

Right now, the Ravens, Patriots, Texans and Broncos all have commanding divisional leads, so it looks like those four teams are in. The real action is for the Wild Cards. The Colts frankly haven't played that well (scoring 43 points than they've allowed and getting blown out by the Patriots, Jets and Bears), but at 7-4, they've got a great shot at a Wild Card. They've got two games left against the Texans, though, so nothing is guaranteed.

After that, it's the Steelers and Bengals at 6-5. The Bengals still have to play the Ravens once, although it's in Week 17, when the Ravens might well have little to play for. Cincinnati will also take on the Chargers, Cowboys and Eagles before playing a road game against the Steelers December 23.

That could be a huge game, but the Steelers will have the edge. Roethlisberger should be healthy by then, the game is at Heinz Field, and the Steelers will hold the tiebreaker if they win. So the Steelers will need to win that game, and otherwise keep pace with the Bengals.

There is, of course, lots of football left to be played, and there are other teams that aren't out of contention. Put the only one within a game is the Dolphins, who still have to play the 49ers and have two games left against the Patriots. Let's not worry about them just yet. It's shaping up to be the Steelers and the Bengals vying for the last playoff spot, and, health permitting, the Steelers have the edge.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.