Looking ahead ... way ahead for Steelers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N. J. -- The Steelers got the first win that had eluded them in many ways through the first quarter of the season. Now comes the hard part: stringing together enough victories to insert themselves into the playoff picture.

The Steelers realistically have to go 8-3 the rest of the way to have a shot at winning the AFC North or making the playoffs as one of the two conference wild-card teams. The remaining schedule isn’t a killer but it isn’t soft, either. Consider that the Steelers’ nine remaining opponents are a combined 31-27 and only two of them (Raiders and Bills) have a losing record.

Here is a look at the rest of the Steelers schedule:

Ravens, Sunday: The offense that carried the Ravens to a Super Bowl title last season has lost its fastball. Running back Ray Rice has been ordinary, and injuries and offseason losses have left quarterback Joe Flacco precious few receiving targets. This is a must-win for the Steelers given the state of the Ravens and the fact that they play them at Heinz Field.

@ Raiders, Oct. 27: The Steelers are, incredibly, just 1-3 against the Raiders since 2006, and they have lost their past two games at Oakland. The Raiders are again scuffling, but dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor has provided a glimmer of hope for the future. The Steelers have to figure out a way to win in Oakland.

@ Patriots, Nov. 3: This may be the toughest remaining game, at least on paper. Just when we were ready to bury Tom Brady and his no-name supporting cast, the quarterback Steelers fans love to hate pulled out a miraculous victory against the previously unbeaten Saints. What adds to the difficulty of this game for the Steelers: injured tight end Rob Gronkowski is likely to be back in the Patriots lineup.

Bills, Nov. 10: The Bills are such a mess at quarterback that they signed Raiders cast-off Matt Flynn. E.J. Manuel could be back from a sprained knee ligament by this game, and the Steelers are probably hoping that is the case. The Steelers are 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks since Dick LeBeau returned to the team in 2004 for a second stint as defensive coordinator.

Lions, Nov. 17: The Steelers will probably need to score some points to beat Detroit if it has its full arsenal of offensive players. The Lions are explosive if wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush are healthy, but they haven’t beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh since the NFL merger. Steelers have won eight consecutive games against the Lions in Pittsburgh.

@ Browns, Nov. 24: Ben Roethlisberger has lost just one time to the team that passed over him in the 2004 draft – and is still in search of a franchise quarterback. Roethlisberger was hurt last season when the Steelers committed a ghastly eight turnovers in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland.

@ Ravens, Nov. 28: Both rivals have a quick turnaround before meeting Thanksgiving night. The Ravens will be coming off a home game against the Jets, and they certainly haven’t forgotten that the Steelers and reserve quarterback Charlie Batch beat them last year in Baltimore. The Steelers are 3-3 at Baltimore under seventh-year coach Mike Tomlin.

Dolphins, Dec. 8: Mike Wallace returns to Pittsburgh with an offense that is still finding its way under second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a lackluster running game that is averaging 69.6 yards per game. The Steelers have beaten the Dolphins in five consecutive games and haven’t lost to them in Pittsburgh since 1990.

Bengals, Dec. 15: The Steelers, who are just 2-2 against Cincinnati at home since 2009, will try to avenge an earlier loss to their bitter rivals. Tight end Heath Miller and running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t play in a Sept. 16 loss to the Bengals, so it’s reasonable to expect the Steelers to score more than 10 points when the teams meet for the second time this season.

@ Packers, Dec. 22: This rematch of Super Bowl XLV, like the Steelers’ game at the Patriots, will be a tall order. Aaron Rodgers is still one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Packers look like they have found a running back to complement their passing game in rookie Eddie Lacy. Storied Lambeau Field is never an easy place to play, and the Packers figure to be jockeying for playoff positioning and fighting for the NFC North title.

Browns, Dec. 29: One of these years the Steelers and Browns will play a meaningful regular-season finale. It won’t be this year, though imagine how rocking Heinz Field will be if the Steelers are somehow 8-7 at this point and still in contention in the AFC North and wild-card race.