Sunday’s 36-10 loss to Kansas City was like a stale lump of coal.
But in the spirit of the Christmas season, how about a little black and gold hope?
If the Pittsburgh Steelers manage to win their last two games, in two weeks time they could sort of always have a playoff spot delivered as a holiday gift that had been lost in the mail.
In a mediocre AFC and with a widened NFL playoff field in his sophomore year, even at 7-7-1, the Steelers are only half a game away from seventh and final playoff place. .
The Steelers were humbled to be knocked down by the Chiefs, two-time defending AFC champions. But on a weekend in which the Los Angeles Chargers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens also lost, the Steelers lost no ground in the race for the No. 7 seed. All they need to win is win their last two games and lose three other teams once each in the next 14 days.
The Steelers face two teams they beat: at home against Cleveland (7-8) next Monday and Baltimore (8-7) on the final day of the season. Neither has beaten anyone other than the other since November 21.
If the Steelers can beat them both, they would need a loss each to the Miami Dolphins (7-7), Chargers (8-7) and Las Vegas Raiders (8-7).
The Chargers and Raiders go head to head in Week 18, so this is it. The other should lose next Sunday: Las Vegas plays for the Colts (winners of eight of their last 10), and Los Angeles hosts the Denver Broncos (7-8).
Each of the Dolphins’ three remaining opponents have unbeaten records: the New Orleans Saints (7-7), Tennessee Titans (10-5) and New England Patriots (9-6). Remember, all the Steelers ask for is a loss.
All sounds so plausible. And in a season where the AFC has been so poor, it certainly is.
Better yet: If the Steelers slip into the No.7 seed, their two most likely opponents in the first round would be the Buffalo Bills or the Titans – two teams they’ve already beaten this season.