Steelers return to practice Monday after bye week

Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sport

The 0-4 Steelers are back on the field preparing for a road game against the New York Jets in Week 6. The slate of games scheduled for them in Weeks 6-9, as well as a weak division, could make the Steelers relevant over the the last two-thirds of their season.

The Steelers are coming off four straight losses, and four straight days off last week into this one. The Jets, their Week 6 opponents, are at Atlanta on Monday night, giving the Steelers something of an advantage in terms of having another day to prepare fully.

It seems about right, considering the team's records.

The Jets (2-2) are an embattled franchise, possibly amid a full quarterback change, and with it, possibly a coaching change - if they don't improve steadily on their .500 record so far this season. The Steelers are the same - except with a worse record, no quarterback change coming and a head coach who likely isn't going anywhere unless it's on his own accord, which seems as likely as Rex Ryan going silent for days at a time.

The Steelers are looking to make a notch in the win column for the first time since December of 2012. A win would be just their third in the last 12 games, but any trip starts with one step; any winning streak with one game.

While odds are extremely unlikely the Steelers will participate in this year's playoffs, stranger things have happened, and winning what will likely have to be nine of their last 12 games shouldn't be seen as impossible - certainly not judging on this weekend's results.

The Steelers have five games left with the AFC North - a division in which the other three teams sit at 3-2 and none of them in impressive fashion. Ben Roethlisberger, off to one of the worst starts in his career, is still the highest-rated passer in the North - that includes Cleveland's Brian Hoyer, the best Browns quarterback since Derek Anderson in 2007, who tore his ACL in his team's third consecutive win in Week 5.

Andy Dalton threw his first ever red zone interception in a win over New England Sunday, and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco has five touchdown passes to eight interceptions, and a completion percentage under 58 in five games.

Any of those teams would do well in the assumption they are not outstanding.

The Ravens saw a Flacco interception returned for a touchdown late in an eventual win over the Dolphins Sunday. While Baltimore got the game-winning field goal, its defense saw four - FOUR - dropped passes on the Dolphins' final drive, leading to a missed 57-yard field goal at the end of regulation.

Cleveland is back to quarterback Brandon Weeden, a player who struck fear in the hearts of his own team, and is rushing for 79 yards a game. Cincinnati has scored 19 points in its last two games.

Oddly enough, even for this 2013 season, the Steelers' Week 8 opponents, the Oakland Raiders, may be the toughest of their next four - at the Jets, vs. Baltimore, at Oakland, at New England.

At the risk of trivializing those teams - all of whom appear to be having less struggles than Pittsburgh - the Steelers may or may not make the playoffs, but the team has been close to putting together a strong, all-around performance, inching stubbornly closer to that level in each of their last two games.

Major flaws (turnovers and missed tackles) have been the headlines of those losses, but they've improved quite a bit from where they started. A mini winning streak isn't out of the question.

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