If your family is anything like the ones in made-for-TV movies (and of course we all so totally are - am I right?), you take a moment on Thanksgiving before galloping down the tryptophan-soaked road to Glutton Town to acknowledge some of your innumerable fortunes: the food on the table, the family that surrounds it, civil rights, penicillin, the steam engine, the printing press, the fact that Najeh Davenport is not your roommate ...
I mean, I guess those are all important. But this Thanksgiving, I'll be counting the blessing that is the Pittsburgh Steelers' remaining schedule.
Take a peek for yourself:
|Wins||Losses||Points Forced||Points Allowed||Net Points|
|@ Buffalo Bills - Week 12||2||8||213||276||-63|
|@ Baltimore Ravens - Week 13||7||3||233||178||55|
|Cincinnati Bengals - Week 14||2||8||215||262||-47|
|New York Jets - Week 15||8||2||238||177||61|
|Carolina Panthers - Week 16||1||9||117||252||-135|
|@ Cleveland Browns - Week 17||3||7||192||206||-14|
Look at that - only two winning clubs. All told, Pittsburgh's remaining opponents boast an average winning percentage of 0.383. Even if you grant these teams are different than they were three months ago and examine only each team's last five games, the average only improves to 0.433.
Obviously, the Jets are no pushover - they currently lead the AFC East with a tie-breaker over the New England Patriots - and Week 13's pivotal divisional matchup against the Ravens is no cakewalk, either. But you have to like Pittsburgh's chances against two of the worst teams in the league (Buffalo and Carolina) and two struggling divisional foes.
Even if the Steelers lose to both Baltimore and New York, they will likely have an iron-clad grip on a wild card playoff spot if they can simply handle the teams they ought to en route to an 11-5 record. And of course, a win in Baltimore and solid performances elsewhere could still lead to the division crown. Regardless, with the way the AFC standings are shaping up, it's likely that even a 10-6 mark will be good enough for the Black & Gold to return to the playoffs after last season's hiatus.
Speaking of which, I remember basking in the same optimism right around this time last year. With matchups against Cleveland, the Oakland Raiders, and the Kansas City Chiefs (all losing franchises at the time), fans were licking their chops at the prospects of a late-season Steelers playoff push. But Pittsburgh lost all three contests during a five-loss skid and missed the playoffs at 9-7.
"Any given Sunday" is cliché, sure, but in the variance-heavy NFL, it's a cliché that persists for good reason: David can and often does beat Goliath. The Steelers would be remiss to overlook any of their remaining losing-record opponents, especially the Browns, who have been giant-killers as of late, toppling New England and the New Orleans Saints.
That said, when trying to forecast the inherently unpredictable NFL, all we can go on is what we know. And what we know for now is that Pittsburgh's road to the playoffs looks like as much of a sure thing as post-turkey-binge regret.
Happy Thanksgiving, Steelers fans.