After losing Thursday night to the Baltimore Ravens and placing starting center Fernando Velasco on season-ending injured reserve Saturday, the Steelers probably couldn’t have asked for a better Sunday.
The Steelers, who are 5-7 following the 22-20 loss Thanksgiving night, can all but forget about winning the AFC North, where they trail the Cincinnati Bengals and Ravens.
But Pittsburgh remains very much alive in the chase for the second wild-card spot in the AFC. And the Bengals are one of the teams they have to thank for that, as Cincinnati dealt San Diego (5-7) a 17-10 loss Sunday.
The Steelers entered the week in a logjam of six teams that were a game out of the final wild-card spot. Even with its loss in Baltimore, Pittsburgh is still in decent position as only two of the six teams that entered the week at 5-6 won, including the Ravens.
Baltimore hosts Minnesota this week, but finishes with road games at Detroit and Cincinnati sandwiched around a home game against New England. All three are division leaders.
The other team that improved to 6-6 is Miami, a 23-3 winner over the New York Jets. The Dolphins come to Pittsburgh Sunday, giving the Steelers a chance to pull even and also grab a tiebreaker advantage.
“We’ve got another AFC opponent coming to our house, the Miami Dolphins,” said Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. “We’re going to be looking forward to that matchup.”
The Steelers will return to practice today and try to figure out who will replace Velasco, who suffered an Achilles’ tendon injury in the fourth quarter against Baltimore.
Cody Wallace, who was, like Velasco, signed when Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season in the opener with a knee injury, will likely get the first shot at playing center. The Steelers also could move left tackle Kelvin Beachum or left guard Ramon Foster to center. Veteran Eric Olsen, who was signed Saturday and has appeared in 17 games with four starts, also is an option.
With three of their final four games at home, and each being against AFC games, the Steelers have to win the games at Heinz Field to finish at least 8-8.
Pittsburgh’s final road game is Dec. 22 at Green Bay.
The Steelers are 4-5 in AFC games and need to improve that mark to have a shot at increasing their chances of winning tiebreakers.
“We’ve felt we’ve needed to win out for a while now,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
That might not be the case, but if the Steelers do win their four remaining games, then they will likely be in the playoffs. A 3-1 record in the final four games also gives them a chance.
Odds and end zones
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is facing a stiff fine for being on the edge of the field during a kickoff return by Baltimore. According to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, teams were warned last Wednesday in an NFL memo about not standing on the white sideline marker during games. Any sanctions, which could include fines for both Tomlin and the Steelers, along with the loss of a draft pick, will likely be announced this week.