How the Steelers Can Make the Playoffs

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 21 hours ago

Good morning,

Overcoming the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North Division title is a long-shot for the Steelers, but there remains a sliver of hope, thanks to the NFL’s tiebreaking system.

Cincinnati’s second straight defeat raised hopes by Steelers fans that their team might overtake the Bengals and win their second straight division crown. At 6-4, the Steelers are two games behind the first-place Bengals, who are 8-2 and they can gain one of those by winning in Cincinnati Dec. 13. If the Bengals lost another and the Steelers won out, they would be tied.

A tie would not do it for the Steelers unless the Bengals also lost to either Cleveland or Baltimore because the first tiebreaker is record within the division. Cincinnati is 3-0 in the division and the Steelers 1-2. The Bengals would have to finish with two division losses and be tied with the Steelers for it to go to the next tiebreaker.

And if it does, that’s where the Steelers have a chance. The next tiebreaker is not, as many believe, the two teams’ records in the AFC. If it were, the Bengals again would have a big edge because they are 7-1 and the Steelers are 3-4. So the Bengals would have to lose three games for the Steelers to even tie in that category.

However, the NFL procedure for breaking ties within the division starts with head-to-head, then goes to best record within the division. The third tiebreaker is best record in common games for the two teams. There, the Bengals still lead with a 5-1 record to the Steelers’ 4-2. However, there is plenty of football to be played in that category as well. Cincinnati has a game Sunday against St. Louis and another at San Francisco Dec. 20. The Steelers beat both teams. Both the Steelers and Bengals then have games left against Cleveland, Denver and Baltimore.

It remains a long shot for the Steelers to overcome the Bengals and win the AFC North. They would have put themselves in great position had they been able to pull out that game against Cincinnati Nov. 1 at Heinz Field; then, they would be tied at 7-3 and perhaps could have determined the division winner at Cincinnati Dec. 13.

But the Bengals prevailed in that one 16-10.

The most logical path to the playoffs for the Steelers remains the wildcard route, and while they are clearly No. 1 with the best record among those not leading the division, four AFC teams are 5-5. They are Buffalo (after losing last night to New England 20-13), the New York Jets, Houston and Kansas City.

There, the tiebreakers are not kind to the Steelers. First is head to head, so Kansas City would beat them out if those two tie. They will have played no other 5-5 AFC teams so the next tiebreaker would be record within the conference, as it would be to break tied with three or more teams. This is where it gets confusing because the next step to break a tie within the division – the Steelers and Bengals, for example – are those common games. But once you get into breaking ties for the wildcard berth outside the division, it is reversed – record within the AFC first and then common games.

Again, the Steelers 3-4 conference record might hurt them. Kansas City has only two losses and Houston three. Buffalo is 5-4 in the AFC and the Jets 4-4.

As some Steelers players said on Monday, they now are in control of whether they make the playoffs or not. The one thing we do know is that if they sweep their final six games, they are in. If they go 5-1, it’s unlikely two other 5-5 teams will sweep their final six, so that should do it also. Go 4-2 and a 10-6 record also should make it.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Steelers are the ninth strongest team in the NFL and fifth in the AFC. They have a 62 percent chance of making the playoffs, an 11 percent chance of winning the division, a 4 percent chance of earning a first-round bye and a 2 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

The New York Times has a playoff simulator and there, the Times gives the Steelers a 56 percent chance to make the playoffs based on 19,400 simulations.

So there you have it. The Steelers have a better chance of making the playoffs than not making them. Their chance of winning the division is a long-shot but not out of the question.

Now all they have to do is play.

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Steelers hoping for a 2014 finish, not 2009 or 2012

Ray Fittipaldo 1 day ago

The Steelers have started 6-4 three other times in Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach. They made the playoffs in only one of those years.

The path to follow is the one they followed last season. After starting 6-4 they barely won at Tennessee and then lost to New Orleans before ripping off four consecutive wins to finish 11-5 and win the division.

The Steelers might not have to win five of six to get into the playoffs this year, but they might have to go 4-2 to get to 10-6. Not only do the Steelers have a poor division record (1-2), but they’re 3-4 in conference games, which is the second tiebreaker for the wild card after head-to-head.

The Steelers will be rooting for the Patriots to beat the Bills (5-4) in Monday Night Football so they can retain the No. 5 seed in the AFC. The Bills would leap-frog the Steelers if they beat the Patriots.

The Steelers also were 6-4 in 2012 and 2009. They went 2-4 and finished 8-8. Of course, they played their 11th game that season without Ben Roethlisberger. Charlie Batch started for the Steelers in Cleveland, and the Steelers lost, 20-14. They also lost to the Chargers, Cowboys and Bengals after that. The losses to the Cowboys and Bengals were by three points. If they won one of those games they would have made the playoffs.

In ’09, they were 6-4 and went 3-3 over their final six to finish 9-7. They missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker to Baltimore. The final three losses in ’09 all were by a touchdown or fewer, including two that were decided by three points. 

The Steelers already lost one game they should have won (see Baltimore) and another when they held a fourth quarter lead (see Cincinnati). Another one of those might be the difference between making the playoffs and watching from home. 

The Steelers got some help on Sunday. Their slim hopes of repeating as AFC North champs were improved when Arizona beat Cincinnati. The Bengals hold a two-game lead over the Steelers with six remaining.

How big is that loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field now? If the Steelers could have closed that game out they’d be tied with the Bengals with identical 7-3 records with the head-to-head tiebreaker. 

As it is, they’re two behind and the Bengals hold the head-to-head edge as well as the better division record, the second tiebreaker after head-to-head.

The wild card remains the most likely path to the playoffs for the Steelers, and they got mixed results there on Sunday. The Jets (5-5), Raiders (4-6) and Dolphins (4-6) all lost, but the Texans (5-5), Colts (5-5) and Chiefs (5-5) all won.

Either the Colts or the Texans will win the AFC South, and the Steelers will be hoping the other falls out of contention. The Steelers play host to the Colts Dec. 6. 

How quickly things change in the NFL. Three weeks ago, the Chiefs and Texans were 2-5 and seemingly out of it. Now both are fighting the Steelers for a wild card berth.

The most difficult remaining games for the Texans: at Buffalo and Indianapolis and at home to the Patriots. 

The most difficult remaining games for the Colts: at Pittsburgh and Miami and home games against the Texans and Buccaneers.  

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Fichtner deals with "crazy year" for quarterbacks

Ray Fittipaldo 5 days ago

Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner has had a challenging season. He’s had to prepare game plans for three starting quarterbacks that have distinctly different skill sets.

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Vick and Landry Jones have all started two games or more. But in the most recent game against Cleveland the game plan went totally out the window when Jones exited with an ankle injury and a limping Roethlisberger came on to take his place.

“You have to fit the guys with the things we do,” Fichtner said. “Mike Vick does things really well. Landry has things he does really well. Ben has things that he does really well. Todd Haley is trying to put it all together, and two series into the game, next thing you know you have to bring in another quarterback. That’s been the adjustment part.”

Roethlisberger could not play much under center. The coaches adjusted by running the no-huddle and calling plays out of the shotgun when they did huddle. The passing game flourished, but the running game did not without a quarterback under center.

One season after Roethlisberger played every snap, every quarterback has missed time with an injury. For Roethlisberger, it was a sprained knee and bone bruise. For Vick, it was a hamstring. And Jones had his aforementioned ankle injury.

“They have all got their opportunities, so they can’t say they haven’t,” he said. “But yes, I would say crazy is a good word with the injuries. But they have done a nice job of preparing for the week. They all work like they could be the starter so it’s not too big for them when they have to go in and play.”

*Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell doesn’t have much depth behind starting ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, but even if he did it doesn’t sound like he’d pull them off the field.

“I am really pleased with both of them. Cam has been here for a long time. Some of his work and study habits have rubbed off on Stephon. So those two guys, when they come to practice, they kind of compete individually and against one another. It’s a good twosome, and I am just hoping they can continue to get better. Both are really young guys right now.”

*The Patriots are undefeated and have overcome injuries at several key spots this season. But let’s see how they do without receiver Julian Edelman, who will miss the remainder of the regular season with a foot injury.

Edelman’s injury comes on the heels of the Patriots losing running back Dion Lewis for the season with a knee injury. The Patriots also have been shuffling offensive linemen in and out of the lineup due to injuries.

They’ve been good enough to get to 9-0, but it makes one wonder what a rematch against the Steelers would like in January. While the Patriots have lost key players in recent weeks the Steelers would add one the Patriots didn’t see in Martavis Bryant.

*Of course, the Steelers must make the playoffs first. That won’t be easy with four of the final six games on the road. 

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Strange Doings Around AFC North

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 6 days ago

Good morning,

Today we head all over the AFC North in some Bye Week Stuff:

--- First, to Baltimore, where John Harbaugh’s Ravens are 2-8 and the old coach has come up with his version of Mike Tomlin’s “unleash hell in December” promise back in 2009.

Harbaugh did not exactly promise to unleash hell or anything like that but he did compare the Ravens to the movie “Gladiator.’’

"When they all go shield to shield and shoulder to shoulder, and they’re in the square … that’s how you handle tough times as a family," Harbaugh said. "That’s how you handle tough times as a team or as an organization, and that’s what we will do."

He should hope it turns out better than it did for Tomlin back in ’09. The Steelers were riding a three-game losing streak and were 6-5 as reigning Super Bowl champs when he unleashed those words.

Here is the whole quote from that press conference:

"We will unleash hell here in December because we have to. We won't go in a shell. We'll go into attack mode, because that's what's required."

Duly inspired the Steelers stretched their losing streak to five games by dropping their first two in December, at home to Bruce Gradkowski’s Oakland Raiders and then at Cleveland.

Perhaps it just took awhile for Tomlin’s words to move his players because after that, they finished with a 3-game winning streak to go 9-7, although they did not make the playoffs.

Here’s Harbaugh’s Gladiator speech this week:

And here is Tomlin’s 2009 Unleash Hell promise:

--- Onto Cincinnati, where Andy Dalton apparently never heard of the term “sticks and stones.’’ The Bengals quarterback said he was offended by a mild jab taken by Houston’s J.J. Webb after the Texans pulled a 10-6 upset in Paul Brown Stadium.

"Our goal was to come out here and make the Red Rifle look like a Red Ryder BB gun," Watt said.

Pretty tame stuff, but Dalton acted like an 8-year-old who had just heard a schoolmate tell him Santa Claus wasn’t real.

"I am disappointed in him for the integrity of this game," Dalton said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He's a really good player. And so there's a lot of kids and a lot of people that look up to him. And for him to make comments like that, it just shows that it's acceptable to do that kind of stuff and say that kind of stuff. So I mean, it's disappointing for one of the best players in this league to come out and say something like that.

"I think J.J. is a good player but for him to be one of the best in this league and just show that integrity and show that type of -- you know it shows what he's about, which is disappointing."

Gee, Andy, did someone steal your Teddy Bear as a kid? Really, the integrity of the game? I suppose Dalton hears nothing like that on the field during a game. It sounds as though he might be open to a little trash talking.

Here’s that weird story.

--- And now to Cleveland, where there must be much relief on the coaching staff after owner Jimmy Haslam promised publicly there would be no changes to it during this Bye Week. He told this to two reporters at Heinz Field after the Browns lost to the Steelers 30-9.

In my 31 seasons covering the Steelers, I never thought to ask Dan or Art Rooney if he would make any changes in his coaching staff during the season. Asked if they might do so after it, perhaps, but not during it. It’s yet another contrast in what’s expected from the two different organizations.

And here is that story.

--- Finally, we arrive in Pittsburgh where it is an Off Week, not a Bye Week. I referred to it as a Bye Week because that is what the NFL calls it, but it’s really not a bye because a bye means you advance to the next level without having to do anything, as do the top two playoff seeds in each conference; that is the true Bye. Nevertheless, good bye.

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Fast Willie’s run still standing tall in Super Bowl record book

Ray Fittipaldo 1 week ago

The Super Bowl turns 50 this season. The previous 49 Super Bowls delivered some great plays and terrific performances. Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Tom Brady hold many of the game’s most significant records.

Several Steelers own prominent places in the record book as well. Franco Harris has the most rushing yards (354) and most rushing attempts (101) in a career. Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth own Super Bowl records, too, for yards per gain by pass and catch.

All three are Hall of Famers and are immortalized as part of the Super Steelers of the 1970s. 

And then there is former Steelers running back Willie Parker, an undrafted free agent who holds one of the most significant records in Super Bowl history.

Parker’s 75-yard run against Seattle in Super Bowl XL remains the longest run in the game’s history.

“That’s something I always cherish, but you have to give credit to the offensive line,” Parker said. “It’s easy when you’re the fastest guy on the field, just to run, make a move and then make a couple of guys miss and run straight ahead. The hardest thing about that run – and I always laugh about it – I was saying in my head, ‘Please don’t trip. Please don’t trip. Please don’t trip.’”

It was textbook blocking by the offensive line, including a perfect block by a pulling Alan Faneca, that allowed Parker to go untouched into the end zone.

When Parker meets someone for the first time they inevitably asked him to relive the run. Parker does with glee. Sometimes, when he is alone, he finds himself watching it over and over again on You Tube.

“I don’t really think about it often, but everyone I meet for the first time they always bring up that run,” he said. “They make me replay the whole run. Sometimes I’ll go to You Tube. I’ll type in ‘Willie Parker’ ‘Super Bowl XL’, ‘75 yards’. And I’ll look at it and see if I can remember every single step and what happened, just reliving the moment. That’s what everyone here is doing today, reliving the moment.”

Parker was one of more than 30 alumni from the Super Bowl XL team that returned to Pittsburgh for alumni weekend. They were honored at halftime Sunday and Parker did the Terrible Towel Twirl before the game.

Parker’s 75-yard run early in the third quarter of Super Bowl XL gave the Steelers a 14-3 lead in a game they eventually won, 21-10. He finished the game with 93 yards on 10 carries.

“It’s the biggest game,” Parker said. “Everyone wants to play in the Super Bowl. It’s every little kid’s dream that plays and loves football is to play in the biggest game. We did that. We’re back here today to have fun and bring back memories.”

Parker was a rookie in 2004 when the Steelers went 15-1 and lost to the Patriots in the AFC championship game. He said the road to the Super Bowl the next season was more satisfying in many ways that actually winning the game itself.

The Steelers were 7-5 and had to win their final four games just to make the playoffs. They were the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs and became the first team in NFL history to win three road games and win the Super Bowl.

“We came together as a team,” Parker said. “We went into games believing we were going to win. We knew we were going to win. The year before that, when we lost to the Patriots, I thought that was the better team.

“We had that three-game skid [in 2005] and then we put it all together. It was destiny. We did something no other team had ever done before. We were the first team to ever do that.”

Parker went on to earn a second Super Bowl ring with the Steelers in 2008. He was the Steelers’ leading rusher in Super Bowl XLIII, too, with 53 yards on 19 carries.

Parker would play one more season with the Steelers in 2009. He was 29 at the end of that season and never played another down in the NFL.

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