Steelers lurking in AFC playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- Free safety Ryan Clark couldn’t resist when asked about the mass -- and math -- of mediocrity that has allowed the Steelers to claw their way back to relevancy in the AFC playoff picture.

The Steelers, unbelievably, given their 0-4 start and back-to-back belly-smackers at Oakland and New England, are just a game out of the race for the second wild-card berth.

“The only one that kills us off every week is y’all,” Clark told reporters after the Steelers’ 37-27 win over the Lions. “Every week y’all ask me a question, I give y’all an answer and y’all look at me like I’m stupid. I say we still have opportunities to win games and put ourselves in contention to get into the playoffs and that’s the way we’ve been approaching it.”

That approach is working, and not just because the Steelers have won four of their last six games.

The chase for the final playoff spot in the AFC is wide open.

The Jets (5-5) and Dolphins (5-5) lead the pack, and each team has its own set of issues.

The Steelers find themselves in a cluster of 4-6 teams -- there are six of them, including three in the AFC North -- and their remaining schedule is favorable on paper.

The Steelers’ six remaining opponents have a combined win-loss record of 29-32. Only the Bengals (7-4) have a winning record, and the Steelers play them at home on Dec. 15.

Twenty teams have a more difficult remaining schedule than the Steelers in terms of their opponents’ winning percentage, and the AFC has been so bad that eight wins might be enough to sneak into the playoffs.

“It clearly looks like it could be in the wild-card scenario,” ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge said of an eight-win season.

Hoge said he thinks the second wild-card team will come out of the AFC North.

“I think it’s between the Ravens and the Steelers,” Hoge said. “Those two teams seem to be most balanced and equipped. Still a lot of fog to work their way out into the wild-card race.”