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After Their Very Business-Like Win Over the Rams on Christmas Eve, the Steelers Playoff Picture is a Little Clearer

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I didn't get a chance to see a lot of Saturday's game between the Steelers and Rams because of work (I plan on watching a replay of it tonight), but when it was 13-0 in the 4th quarter, all I could think about was how crappy it must have been to be a Rams fan watching that game. Even the Rams fan from the NFL commercial who painted his face and wore that fright wig must of had a difficult time sitting through that game. Not only were the Rams 2-12 going into Saturday's contest, but there was little to nothing to cheer about during that game. Even a spectacular blow-out loss would have been preferable to the way the Steelers methodically did away with St. Louis on Christmas Eve.

It made me appreciate being a Steelers fan even more, because like Maryrose has said on numerous occasions, the Steelers haven't played a game when they were out of playoff contention since December 31st, 2006. When you think about that, it's pretty remarkable.

It's almost hard to imagine watching a game with nothing really to play for. Even one of those end-of-season games where your team has everything wrapped up and is just resting its key starters for the postseason is at least a little enjoyable to watch because of the playoffs being on the horizon.

Speaking of playoffs on the horizon, the Steelers still have a shot at the AFC North crown and a bye as we head to the finish line.

Heading into this past weekend's action, the Steelers needed losses by the Ravens and Texans in-order to gain the upper hand in both the AFC North and the race to the bye in the first round of the playoffs provided they took care of business against St. Louis. Unfortunately, like the Steelers, the Ravens and Texans were playing two teams that were out of contention a long time ago. Surprisingly, however, the Texans lost to the 1-13 Colts on Thursday night, and even though the Browns couldn't knock off the Ravens on Saturday, at least the Steelers inched a little closer to a possible bye.

If you ask me, the prospects for a bye are looking a lot better today.

The Steelers may not control all of their playoff destiny, but the Cincinnati Bengals certainly do after they defeated the Cardinals on Saturday and the Jets lost at "home" to the Giants.

Before this past weekend, the Bengals and Jets had identical 8-6 records, but the Jets held the tiebreaker over Cincy. Now, at 9-6, Cincinnati only needs to defeat Baltimore at home in-order to clinch the final playoff spot in the AFC.

We'll get to see who is a more desperate football team on Sunday: A Bengals team with their playoff lives on the line or a Ravens team with a chance to earn their first division title since 2006 and the bye that would accompany it. One might automatically assume that the Bengals would be the more desperate of the two, but the Ravens are only 3-4 on the road this year and would fall from the 2nd seed, a bye and at least one home playoff game, all the way down to the 5th spot and road games throughout the postseason if they can't win their division. Also, Baltimore went 8-0 at home this year and may have the best homefield advantage in the AFC right now. Besides that, Ray Lewis and Company are a prideful bunch, and the last thing they'd want to see happen is the Steelers celebrating another AFC North crown after losing to the Ravens twice this year.

And I wouldn't put it past the Bengals to choke. The last time the Bengals were in this exact situation, it was that same day the Steelers played their last game out of playoff contention--December 31st, 2006--and Pittsburgh knocked off the Bengals in overtime, and Cincinnati missed the playoffs.

If the Bengals were to win, it would only help the Steelers if they won their last game in Cleveland.

I'm not too worried about that part of the equation. I know a lot of Steelers fans are going to be concerned with the Browns wanting to cripple Pittsburgh's Super Bowl chances, but the fans were worried about the exact same thing last year when Pittsburgh had to travel to Cleveland for the final week with a division title and bye on the line. But the Browns must have been more interested in their offseason plans than sabotaging the Steelers season, because Pittsburgh made short work of the Brownies, 41-9.

I see the same thing happening this year. Maybe not a 41-9 win (still a question as to whether or not Ben Roethlisberger will play in the final week), but I don't see this veteran Super Bowl team letting the Browns stand in the way of them and a possible better playoff seed.

My brother informed me last night that the NFL moved the Steelers/Browns game to 4:15. I was hoping the Bengals/Ravens game would be at 1pm so Mike Tomlin could know his team's fate before the game and act accordingly, but he won't get that luxury since that game will also be played at 4:15.

In any event, I'd say the Steelers are still very much in the mix for a bye as we head to the regular season finale