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Steelers One Step Closer to Playoffs After Week 13

I'm assuming all of us want the Patriots to win tonight against Baltimore prior to our meeting next weekend at Foxboro, right? Should be a fun week of anticipation and speculation leading up to the game, but let's hold off for a bit longer, and instead take a quick gander at the playoff picture in the AFC after yesterday's developments.

AFC EAST: Not much to say here. Pats have clinched.

AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh clinches the division crown with any combination of two wins or two Browns' losses. The Steelers remaining schedule is littered with tough matchups, beginning next week at New England, and finishing at Baltimore, with a home tilt against Jacksonville and a road game at St. Louis sandwiched in between. Let's get that champagne on ice, but let's also hold of popping even one bottle until business has been taken care of. That said, the Steelers will almost certainly be the AFC North representative in this year's playoffs. Sure, our eyes may be on a bigger prize, but winning a divisional title in Tomlin's first year would be a note-worthy accomplishment in the wake of last year's disaster.

AFC SOUTH:Indianapolis finds itself in the same boat as Pittsburgh after handling Jacksonville yesterday. Like Pittsburgh, they've got the tiebreakers over their closest competitor and a 2 game cushion with just four to go, so their Magic Number is also 2.

AFC West: Wow, two weeks ago Denver looked to have a fighting chance. A meltdown against the Bears and a sad, sad loss against the Raiders leaves them in grim shape heading into Week 14. They're not down for the count just yet, but they better win their next three against KC, Houston, and SD if they have any shot whatsoever. As for San Diego? Who knows exactly what to make of this team. One week they look terrible, the next they look great, and others they just look so-so. Good luck making any sort of predictions with how this season will shake out for them. The good news for the Chargers (or perhaps bad, depending on your take) is that they've got a slate of tough games ahead of them that could potentially catapult them into the playoffs with some positive momentum. That counts for something, mind you. Remember our SB run?

Strange year. Hard to believe there's no compelling divisional races with still 4 weeks remaining. Ok, do we all feel comfortable penciling in the following divisional winners?

New England
San Diego


Cool, glad we agree on that. Now on to the more tricky question: who will represent the AFC as Wild Card winners?

The Favorite(s): Jacksonville.

At 8-4, the Jags control their own destiny. With three of their remaining four games against Houston, Oakland, and Carolina, the Jags should get to 10 wins at least, which would be enough in this year's AFC.

The Contenders: Cleveland, Tennessee, Buffalo

I was ready to write off Tennesse and pencil in Cleveland a week ago, but things are a bit more murky after this week (the unpredicatability of these games is why I generally avoid making any prediction columns). Tennessee's still got defensive issues, a propensity to turn the ball over, and a tough schedule (SD, KC, NYJ, IND) so if I absolutely had to guess right now if they'd make it, I'd say no, unless Indy absolutely rolls over and plays dead in Week 17 with nothing to play for.

Cleveland? Huge missed opportunity by the Browns this past week. Not really surprising to me. I wrote last week that I wasn't convinced the Browns were ready to win on the road. Not an easy thing to do in this league, but it's gotta be done if you want to make the postseason. I won't recap the game, but here's two things I saw that should alarm Browns fans: 1) Derek Anderson's carelesness with the ball and 2) terrible, terrible mental lapses that led to game-changing penalties. 10 penalties, 4 turnovers, and 133 yards given up on the ground. Doesn't sound like a winning recipe to me. The only silver lining from yesterday's loss was that it was a non-conference game.

I said I tend to avoid making predictions, but I'll make a rare one right now: the Browns lose this week at the New York Jets and a once-promising season will suddenly be in jeopardy of falling apart. Ah crap, why'd I just do that. Oh well, moving on. A loss there wouldn't cripple their hopes, but it sure would test the resolve of a young football team that has had absolutely zero experience winning big games in December in the Romeo Crennell era.

Big, big win for the Bills in DC this Sunday. This is a boring football team with little to nothing at all to be excited about for the casual fan, but you got to give Dick Jauron credit for righting the ship after the Bills' disastrous start to the season. A win this week against Miami would set up a high-stakes matchup at Cleveland in Week 15.

The Dark Horse(s):

Not going to waste much time on this, but the Broncos still have a tiny glimmer of hope because of their 5-4 conference record. They need to win out, but they may hold the tie-breaker in the event of a 3-team tie at 9-7. Not sure, and it's too early to figure it out.

Steelers fans, what do you think?