F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
Steelers need to get healthy, win final four
This just doesn’t appear to be the Steelers’ year – at least to win the AFC North.
Thing is, it might not matter.
Take a look around the AFC. See any unbeatable teams?
The Texans have the inside track at the top seed in the playoffs, but they look to have peaked earlier this season.
The Ravens slipped off the hook in a number of games this season, including two weeks ago in a 13-10 win at Pittsburgh. There’s something to be said for finding a way to win, but Baltimore certainly doesn’t look unbeatable.
Great offense, terrible defense.
Rookie quarterback and mediocre defense.
The best of the bunch might be Denver, but you have to wonder how Peyton Manning’s arm will hold up when the snow starts flying at Invesco Field at Mile High.
The point is, just getting into the AFC playoffs this season is the main thing for any team. There just aren’t any unbeatable juggernauts in the conference.
All of which brings us to the Steelers.
At 6-5 entering today’s game at Baltimore, the Steelers are tied with Cincinnati for the final spot in the AFC playoffs. And given that no teams other than the aforementioned ones are above .500, six of the seven teams mentioned will make up the AFC field.
For the Steelers, the key is getting in.
With Ben Roethlisberger likely to return next week for the Steelers’ game against San Diego at Heinz Field, the Steelers have the look of a dangerous team, even if they have to go on the road.
Can they win three road games to get to the Super Bowl? That would be a tall task, but it’s certainly possible.
The most difficult matchups would be at New England or Denver. Beating the Broncos might be more difficult because the Steelers would not only have to face Manning but would have to do so without Ryan Clark, who has arguably been their best defensive player.
That leads us to today’s game for the Steelers at Baltimore.
Roethlisberger won’t play for the third consecutive week, but in the grand scheme of things, this game isn’t a must-win.
That will come in a couple of weeks when the Steelers host Cincinnati.
If the Steelers simply win their final three home games, they should be the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. If they take all four – including a winnable game at Dallas – they will likely be the fifth seed.
Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown will be back in the lineup today for the Steelers, which gives them two major pieces to the puzzle. But it’s highly unlikely Charlie Batch will be able to make enough plays for the Steelers to win.
The Ravens are favored by 8, which is a big number in this rivalry, but take Baltimore to cover, 24-14.
Giants can really take control of the division here.
Take the Giants, 23-20
The Colts still have to play Houston twice down the stretch.
Take Indianapolis to cover in a 27-24 loss
This game looked like a gimme earlier this season, but not so much now.
Take Tampa Bay to cover in a 27-23 loss
Seattle is just not a good road team.
Take Chicago, 20-14
Aaron Rodgers and company should bounce back.
Take Green Bay, 31-17
St. Louis will have the 49ers’ attention after playing them to a tie a few weeks back.
Take San Francisco, 26-17
The Patriots clinch the AFC East with a win.
Take New England, 34-20
Houston could get caught looking ahead to next week’s matchup in New England.
Take Tennessee to cover in a 24-20 loss
Crazy as it sounds, Mark Sanchez would be starting for the Cardinals. So would Tim Tebow.
Take the Jets, 23-16
Carolina and Cam Newton are starting to build momentum for next season.
Take Carolina, 24-14
The Cowboys will relish the thought of burying the Eagles.
Take Dallas, 31-14
This is the kind of game the Bills look good in to tease their fans.
Take Buffalo, 27-17
Chargers gave one away last week against Baltimore. The won’t do the same against Cincinnati.
Take San Diego, 26-20
The Browns won their Super Bowl last week against the Steelers.
Take Oakland, 30-24
Last Week: 5-7-1 ATS; 8-5 Straight up
Overall: 73-81-6 ATS; 98-62 Straight up