Happy Friday Steeler Nation! Hope your weeks were productive and enjoyable, whatever it was that you were preoccupied with. Mine sure went by quickly, and that's a good thing this week as I can't wait to see what's in store for Sunday afternoon when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) in a absolutely huge game for the Bengals, and an undeniably important game for the Steelers as well if they want to retain any shot at catching the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. My hunch is the Steelers will correct many of the miscues that plagued them in their 13-9 win over the Chiefs last Sunday night. We shall see though in a few short days.
In the meantime, an NFL trivia 'did you know' fact: Since 1990, when the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams, 15 teams qualified for the postseason despite having a losing record through the first 11 games of the season. And since 2004, at least one team with five or fewer wins heading into Week 13 has qualified for the postseason. Those teams were?
2010: Seattle Seahawks (5-6) ....7-9 final record....Advance to Divisional Round
2009: New York Jets (5-6) ..... 8-8 ..... Conference Championship
2008: San Diego Chargers (4-7) .... 8-8 .... Divisional Round
2007: Washington Redskins (5-6) .... 9-7 .....Wild Card
2006: Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) .... 10-6 ..... Divisional Round
2005:Washington Redskins (5-6) .... 10-6 ..... Divisional Round
2004: St. Louis Rams (5-6) .... 8-8 .... Divisional Round
All impressive showings outside of the Seahawks' in 2010 when seven wins was enough to capture the NFC West crown over the Rams in Week 17. Just goes to show you how big of a factor momentum plays in this game though, as the Seahawks were able to stun the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round while playing with house money in the playoffs.
So, my question to you all is which team might extend the streak to eight consecutive seasons in 2011? Interestingly enough, there was only one 5-6 football team heading into Week 13 action -- the Buffalo Bills. By defeating the Philadelphia Eagles at home Thursday night, the Seahawks notched their fifth win of the season, but they entered the week at 4-7, which it goes without saying is harder to battle back from than being a mere one game below .500 with five still to play.
Will the Bills be that team? Perhaps if the Bengals lose to the Steelers and the Jets stumble on the road to the Redskins. Could it be Seattle in the NFC? Not likely after collapsing last Sunday against the 'Skins. Were they 6-6 after Thursday night rather than 5-7, perhaps, but as is, a huge long shot. The Eagles ain't getting there, that's for sure. Washington? Nah, couldn't be, not with that upcoming schedule.
It doesn't take much thinking to realize the streak probably ends this year, though I do think Chicago and Detroit continue to slide down the stretch. I don't see both of them getting to 10 wins. Maybe one, definitely not both. We'll see about Atlanta, but looks like they'll get there, so if an NFC team is going to keep the streak alive, they'll have to win out just to get to 9 games and do a lot of scoreboard watching this final month.
There are two teams with any sort of realistic shot -- the first obviously being the Bills since they're a game clear of everyone else with five wins; the second is San Diego just because of the volatility of the AFC West, and because of the fact that they've been there and done that before. They faced a four-game deficit to Denver in 2009 yet managed to win out and watch the Broncos collapse. So a three-game hole isn't insurmountable even though they've given fans and analysts next to no reason to think they're any good this year. Stranger things have happened though, and that's one of countless reasons why the NFL remains so popular and closely followed.