It's certainly easier than it was last week.
A few simpler playoff-clinching scenarios exist in which Pittsburgh could qualify for the playoffs before playing San Francisco on Monday Night.
Pittsburgh punches its ticket to the post-season if they defeat the 49ers, but there are four other ways they could make it before kickoff.
- Oakland (vs. Detroit, 4:05 p.m. ET) loses or ties.
- Tennessee (at Indianapolis 1 p.m. ET) loses or ties.
- Denver (vs. New England, 4:15 p.m. ET) loses.
- New York (at Philadelphia 4:15 p.m.) loses.
Tennessee at Indianapolis
It's kind of lame that the least likely playoff-clinching scenario is the only early game. Indianapolis did the Steelers no favors last week by sleep-walking through a 24-10 loss at Baltimore. It probably would have been much worse, had the Ravens decided not to call off the dogs in the second half.
With little to no intrigue in this game (the only question is how much the Titans will win by, considering they're in the same division, and don't want to provide motivation for the Colts to exact revenge next year), the same scenario for the Colts winning last week exists now; a bus accident or natural disaster only affecting Tennessee will lead to a Colts win.
Detroit at Oakland
It's a match-up of perhaps the two least disciplined teams in the NFL. Lions coach Jim Schwartz got around to telling his team they'll sit if they commit a post-whistle penalty for the rest of the year. Rooted in that attitude is why the Lions swooned from 5-0 to 8-5 this year. Players shouldn't have to be reminded, let alone threatened, to take 15 yards away from their team. Schwartz's tough guy attitude has certainly rubbed off on his players, and is a shining example of why, today, teams aren't hiring coaches with possess that mentality.
It's a tough game to predict. The Raiders aren't exactly playing great football right now, either, having dropped three straight. The Lions probably have the advantage due to the return of Ndamukong Suh from suspension, but their meltdown last week at home is prototypical of this team. In the end, if you love penalties, tune into this game.
New York Jets at Philadelphia
QB Michael Vick returns to the struggling Eagles offense, but it's unclear how much that will matter. The Jets are surging, and will likely attack Philadelphia up front, daring Vick to throw the ball. Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy is one of the best in the game, but the lack of consistency throwing the ball, and the presence of Jets CB Darrelle Revis, plays into the Jets' hands.
Stranger things have happened, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which the Eagles are able to put many points on the board. The Jets will likely win this game comfortably, and it's time for the best in the AFC to start worrying about them in the playoffs.
New England at Denver
Someone's gonna be right eventually, and Tim Tebow won't get the ball down 10 in the fourth quarter. Right?
The Broncos stole a playoff berth away from Pittsburgh last week with Marion Barber seemingly trying to lose the game by fumbling in overtime and running out of bounds when the Bears needed to run out the clock. Expect Tom Brady to ratchet up his game and throw until his arm falls off. Tebow and the Broncos are at their best in close games, so the Patriots will look to put 31+ points on the board by the start of the fourth quarter.
While the Broncos defense should get more of the credit in their current winning streak, it isn't deep enough in the secondary to take an all-out aerial assault from a quarterback as good as Brady.
Pittsburgh will clinch on this win.