After 0-4 start, a win in Baltimore would solidify Steelers playoff chances

Gregory Shamus

Who would have thought the Steelers would be this relevant in the playoff picture after an 0-4 start to the season? Yet, not only is Pittsburgh (5-6) back in the playoff hunt, the team couldn't be playing better as it heads to M&T Bank Stadium for a Thanksgiving night showdown with the Ravens.

It's so tantalizingly close, isn't it? Much like the smell of that Thanksgiving dinner that's cooking in the oven, on the stove, in the microwave, and whatever else Grandma uses for her lab, the Steelers are oh so close to being tasty playoff contenders.

If Pittsburgh can complete a rare sweep of the Steelers/Ravens fierce AFC North rivalry Thanksgiving Day evening in Baltimore, 6-6 will be a reality, and the playoffs such a real possibility, Grandma might catch you sneaking a peak at those tiebreaking scenarios (admit it, you probably already have, right?) with still four games left in the season.

Who would have thought this was possible, especially after that fourth quarter blood-letting in New England on November 3?

If you were still thinking playoffs after the Steelers fell to 2-6, thanks mostly to the defense being shredded for a franchise worst 610 yards and 55 points by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, you, my friend, are the most optimistic fan ever. Either that, or you decided to start the traditional "Wednesday before Thanksgiving binge drinking" 24 days early.

Regardless, your optimism (or buzz) is paying off, because the Steelers couldn't be playing better as a team, and it couldn't be coming at a better time.

Before the season started, I had Pittsburgh pegged to finish anywhere from 6-10 to 8-8, but I thought the team would be playing much better football down the stretch than it would be out of the gate.

However, I certainly didn't see 0-4, and all the ugliness by the offense AND defense that would help define the first month.

I must admit, after that loss in London to Minnesota right before the bye week, I didn't think there was any way the Steelers would win more than five games, yet, here they are, winners of five of their past seven and playing about as well as any fan could possibly hope for right now.

Since that 55 point slaughter at the hands of the Patriots a few weeks ago, Pittsburgh's defense has given up 48 points during the current three game winning streak--including two garbage touchdowns against Buffalo and Cleveland, respectively, when the game was already in hand.

There was that 27 point shredding in the second quarter of the Lions game that occurred way too close in proximity to the 28 point fourth quarter massacre in the New England game (a mere five quarters later), but the defense went on to play its two best quarters of the season in the second half to help secure the much needed victory.

The defense's efforts were made valuable, thanks to a suddenly red hot Ben Roethlisberger, who passed for 367 yards, four touchdowns and zero, that's right, I said zero interceptions against Detroit.

In fact, in the past four games, Roethlisberger has passed for 1188 yards, 12 touchdowns and only three picks after averaging an INT a week through the first seven games.

For the season, Roethlisberger has thrown for 3118, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. And after being taken to the turf with ball in hand 35 times through the first nine games, Roethlisberger has only been sacked once in the past two weeks.

The defense is even starting to take the football away at a high rate, recording seven takeaways over the past two games after only registering seven in the first nine.

After such an awful start to 2013, a 6-6 record and very real playoff possibilities would be a just "dessert" to close out a glorious Thanksgiving of family, friends and football.

Go Steelers!

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