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With a victory against Ravens, playoffs might finally be in sight for Steelers

Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

When the Steelers played the Ravens in the 2021 regular season finale in Baltimore, it was basically a playoff game for Pittsburgh. The Steelers needed to win and get some help to earn the final playoff berth in the AFC. They won in overtime and then got the news the Jaguars upset the Colts to punch their ticket to the playoffs.

The Steelers won't be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention if they lose to the Ravens on Sunday afternoon at Acrisure Stadium, but it sure feels like the playoffs are on the line. If they win, the path to the postseason becomes much more realistic.

The top seven teams from each conference make the playoffs, and the Steelers are currently 12th in the AFC standings. The Steelers (5-7) lose head-to-head tiebreakers to three of the teams in front of them, which is why they might have to win out to make the playoffs. Finishing 10-7 would likely get them in, while their best chance at 9-8 would be winning a multi-team tiebreaker.

The odds are stacked against the Steelers, and they're in this position because they've struggled against the best teams in the league. They are 2-5 against teams that are currently in playoff position. One of those victories came in Week 1 against the Bengals, and the other came against Tampa Bay, which is 6-6 and has the good fortune of playing in the NFC South.

The Steelers are 0-5 against other teams in playoff position with the losses coming against the Bills, Eagles, Bengals, Dolphins and Jets. The Bills beat the Steelers by 35 points. The Eagles beat them by 22 points, and while the Bengals only beat them by a touchdown in their most recent meeting last month, the Steelers defense couldn't stop them from scoring 37 points.

The Ravens (8-4) come to town locked in a tie for first place in the AFC North with the Bengals. They are the only remaining opponent on the Steelers' schedule with a winning record, and it only seems right the Steelers have to beat them to remain relevant over the final month of the season.

"Every game from now is going to have to be a statement game to make it happen," offensive lineman Kevin Dotson said. "We have to finish against the big teams."

 

The Steelers have been in position to beat some of the better teams in the league, but they didn't finish. They held a 10-point on the Jets in the fourth quarter before giving up 14 unanswered points to lose 24-20. They had two chances to punch in touchdowns late in the game against the Dolphins and twice threw interceptions in that 16-10 setback. And they led the Bengals at halftime before surrendering 20 points in the final two quarters to lose 37-30.

If the Steelers win just one of those three games, their path to the playoffs is much easier.

"When you get to this part of the year, every game takes on more meaning," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "The stakes are higher. You don't have a game where if you lose now you can make it up later. There are no makeup games now. You run the risk if you lose a game now you take yourself out of contention to fight for a playoff spot or to win your division."

The Steelers likely will face backup quarterback Tyler Huntley with Lamar Jackson recovering from a knee injury he suffered last week against the Broncos. Not that it matters in this series. The Steelers needed overtime in last season's game in Baltimore to dispatch of Huntley and the Ravens.

There are few guarantees in the NFL, but the Ravens and Steelers competing in close games is one of them. The Steelers have won four in a row in the series, but their average margin of victory in those games is 3.2 points. All four contests were decided by four points or fewer. Seven of the past 10 games in the series have been decided by seven points or fewer.

"When you play Baltimore, there is usually something stake," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "It's not an easy matchup. They have guys who have done it over there for a long time. They have some real good players over there. You have to make sure that you not only match their energy, but in this rivalry it's about who is going to be most physical."

(c)2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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