Steelers have as good a shot of making playoffs as getting top-3 draft pick
Never say never.
The chances of the Steelers rebounding from their bewildering 2-6 start and making the playoffs are beyond long. They're closing in on infinitesimal.
Two websites that played the remaining NFL schedule 50,000 times by computer give them about a 5 percent chance of playing into January.
“Five percent!” receiver Antonio Brown said Wednesday. “It's all right. They're counting us out already.”
According to FootballOutsiders.com., the odds of the Steelers making the playoffs (4.7 percent) or getting a top-three draft pick (3.4 percent) aren't that far apart.
With seven games remaining, the Steelers (3-6) are at a crossroads.
If they can stack a few more wins together, as coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, a favorable December schedule could give them hope of pulling off a comeback comparable to that of the 1976 Steelers, who won nine straight following a 1-4 start.
Accomplish that, and it will rank as one of the great reversals in NFL history.
But should they go in the other direction — their offensive line breaks down, their secondary falters against Calvin Johnson, they lose on the road to the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens in a five-day span — and they could be headed for a 5-11 season.
That, of course, could lead to an offseason roster dismantling that would rival any in franchise history.
The third possibility, as cornerback Ike Taylor says, is they keep being consistently inconsistent — win a game here, lose two there — without developing an identity or rhythm.
Which way will they go?
“What matters is we have a lot of games left, seven weeks left, and we have (four) games left in our division,” safety Ryan Clark said Wednesday. “If we win every game, we'll be in the playoffs. And that's our focus.
“Every week, (it's) winning the game we have to play. If those things happen, we'll have an opportunity to be in the playoffs, and that's what we control.”
Beating the Buffalo Bills, 23-10, on Sunday put them on the fringe of the AFC playoff race, though they trail eight other teams for the final wild-card spot. They also trail Cincinnati (6-4) by 21⁄2 games in the AFC North race. They are 1-1 in division games.
Ben Roethlisberger prefers they not look beyond the current game — the same focused approach they took last week after being blown out 55-31 at New England.
“I look at one game, and one game only,” he said. “I don't think you can afford to look at where you sit and what other teams are doing. All we can do is control what we need to control.”
Injured linebacker Larry Foote added, “The way we lost to New England, it was quiet all last week. People don't want that to happen again.”
Foote remembers how the 2006 Steelers (8-8) accomplished a second-half turnaround by going 6-2. Then, he said, the playoffs weren't necessarily the top motivating factor.
“When you're 2-6 and not doing well, you're fighting for your livelihood,” Foote said.
“I don't think in this league there's any bigger motivation, except the playoff run and winning the Super Bowl. You know your job and career are at stake. That can light a fire under you.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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