With the Cincinnati Bengals improving to 8-0 last night with a win over the Browns, they just distanced themselves even further away from the rest of the competition for the AFC North crown.
At this point, the Steelers are not winning the division; that race is over.
Now, we turn towards the wildcard race, where the Steelers are still in pretty good shape. However, at the moment the Steelers are on the outside looking in. If the season ended today the Jets and Raiders would be the wildcards.
The Steelers record is respectable considering all the injuries and suspensions in the first half of the season, but they haven’t done themselves any favors with who they’ve beaten and who they’ve lost to. Conference record and head to head is going to be important at the end of the season.
Right now, the team is 1-4 against the AFC and 3-0 against the NFC. Compared to the Jets who are 3-2 in the AFC and the Raiders who are 4-2.
The Steelers could nullify that Raiders advantage though, if they beat them this Sunday. A loss would be twice as damaging to their chances though, because they’d lose the head to head and would gain one more AFC loss and give the Raiders one more AFC win.
Both the Jets and Raiders have a lot of winnable games on the schedule the rest of the way. I think that the Steelers are better than those two teams but the schedule is tough.
I think it will be a close race between the three teams all the way to the end, but the Steelers could do themselves a huge favor by winning this Sunday.
I think the Raiders are a good team, but this is a winnable game at home that the team needs. So far, I think the Steelers losses were to very good teams (Patriots and Bengals), or losses that can be excused without Big Ben (Ravens and Chiefs).
If we lose this one, I think we may look back at the end of the season and point to that game as one where we dropped the ball.