Steelers need help to make playoffs
The Steelers would love to say that they control their playoff fate, but the reality is the defending Super Bowl champions might have to get by with a little help from their ... enemies.
The Steelers are preparing for the unfathomable, with the likely possibility that they will have to pull for Tom Brady and New England to beat Houston and Carson Palmer and Cincinnati to beat the New York Jets in the final week of the NFL regular season.
"Whoever we need help from, we want them to just do whatever it takes to win," cornerback Deshea Townsend said after Sunday's 23-20 victory over Baltimore. "Let Tom come in and make sure he gets his arm in motion for the first quarter and throw about five touchdowns."
At 8-7, the Steelers are one of a handful of teams in contention for an AFC wild-card spot, but clinching a playoff berth will depend not only on them winning next Sunday at Miami, but also teams with a tiebreaker edge losing.
"It's kind of disappointing because you put yourself in the situation where you have to rely on other people to get you in the playoffs," Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "If we had taken care of business early in the year, we wouldn't be looking at who is losing. Now, we have to rely on that."
Instead of feeling good about finishing strong, the Steelers can only lament the five-game losing streak that included losses to the Kansas City Chiefs (3-12), Oakland Raiders (5-10) and Cleveland Browns (4-11).
"It will be disappointing if you look at the five games we lost and say, 'Wow, we could have won one or two of those games,' " Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "I think the fight this team is showing for the last two weeks -- that we didn't throw in the towel -- says a lot about the character of our team."
Not that their nemeses will be inclined to lend a helping hand, considering the Steelers won Super Bowl XL after making it as the AFC's sixth seed.
"As up and down as our season has been -- a great start, shaky in the middle and a strong finish -- nobody wants to play us in the playoffs," Steelers kicker Jeff Reed said. "We've got a bull's-eye on our backs, and that ain't going to change. That's just this league. Nobody likes teams with great tradition and a history of success like ours."
The Steelers know that such talk of possible playoff scenarios will be all for naught if they don't beat the Dolphins.
"We put ourselves in that situation, but we have to take care of what we have to care of," Townsend said, "or this conversation is for nothing."
Steelers' playoff scenarios
Even if the Steelers (8-7) beat the Dolphins (7-8) next Sunday, they need help to make the playoffs. If they lose, they are eliminated. Here's what the Steelers need to happen next Sunday to earn an AFC wild-card spot:
Steelers finish 9-7 and ...
Jets and Texans lose or tie
Ravens and Texans lose or tie
Ravens, Broncos and Jets lose or tie
Steelers finish 8-7-1 and...
Ravens, Broncos, Jets and Texans lose
NOTE: The Steelers' 1 p.m. game next Sunday against the Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium is subject to change because of the NFL's flex scheduling policy.