PITTSBURGH -- If the Steelers win Sunday at Heinz Field, they will finish 8-8 and also end the season with eight wins in their final 12 games after the franchise’s worst start since 1968.
Whether a 10th consecutive win over the Browns in Pittsburgh is enough for the Steelers to extend their season will depend on three other teams. The Steelers also need the Jets, Bengals and Chiefs to win to emerge from a logjam and secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Despite the Steelers needing outside help, right guard David DeCastro insists their focus won’t stray from beating the Browns.
“I think we’re all professionals,” DeCastro said. “We want to win and go out there and beat the guy ahead of you. It’s as simple as that.”
If only the same could be true of the Steelers’ precarious playoff situation.
Here is a look at the three other games will impact their chances of sneaking into the playoffs:
Jets vs. Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium
Last time they played: Miami beat New York, 23-3, on Dec. 1.
What’s to like: The Jets would love to knock the Dolphins out of playoff contention and they may be playing for coach Rex Ryan’s job. Ryan appears to have the support of his players and they figure to at least give their best effort. Their defense is legit and the Dolphins managed just 103 total yards in a 19-0 loss at Buffalo last Sunday.
What’s not to like: The Jets are just 1-6 on the road this season and they have been beaten by an average of 19.5 points in those six losses. The Jets – and the Steelers – will depend on rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who has been all over the map this season. Smith completed just 4 of 10 passes for 29 yards and was intercepted before getting benched the first time he played against the Dolphins. Yikes.
Ravens vs. Bengals, 1 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium
Last time they played: Baltimore beat Cincinnati, 20-17 in overtime, on Nov. 10.
What’s to like: The Bengals have an outside shot of securing the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs – and the all-important bye that come with it – and they need a victory to assure themselves of the No. 3 seed. There shouldn’t be any worries from the Steelers’ end about the Bengals playing to win, and coach Marvin Lewis’ team is almost a touchdown favorite at home.
What’s not to like: Andy Dalton threw three interceptions last month in Baltimore and he is always a bit of a wild card. The Bengals needed a Hail Mary touchdown pass from Dalton to A.J. Green the last time the AFC North rivals played just to send the game into overtime. The Ravens should be sky high for this game as they want to at least get a chance to defend their Super Bowl title, and history says they will play considerably better after getting shellacked by the Patriots last Sunday.
Chiefs vs. Chargers, 4:25 p.m. ET at Qualcomm Stadium
The last time they played: San Diego beat Kansas City, 41-38, on Nov. 24.
What’s to like: The best thing for the Steelers, if this AFC West game means something to them, is that everything broke their way earlier in the day. The Steelers would love nothing more than to still be alive for the playoffs after the 1 p.m. ET games – even if that means depending on team that is locked into its playoff seed and won’t play key starters the entire game.
What’s not to like: Where to start? Philip Rivers torched the Chiefs for 392 passing yards and three touchdowns last month -- and that was when he played against Kansas City’s first-team defense. Chiefs No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel could get significant playing time, and he has thrown all of 17 passes in his NFL career. The Chargers will have everything to play for if the Dolphins and Ravens lose in the early games.