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Steelers still relevant after all these weeks

After an 0-4 September, the Steelers somehow managed to climb back into the playoff discussions and remain relevant in those discussions all the way up to the kickoff of their regular season finale at Heinz Field on Sunday. NFL parity or not, it's still hard to believe.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It sure didn't seem possible, not after the historic 0-4 start in September and the 2-6 first half of the season.

Yet, here are the 2013 Steelers, 7-8 and still relevant in playoff discussions, heading into Week 17.

As a fan of the team, I've actually been waiting for Pittsburgh to officially be eliminated from the postseason since Antonio Brown barely stepped out of bounds to put the finishing touches on a heartbreaking 34-28 loss to the Dolphins at Heinz Field in Week 14.

After that game, forget about the playoffs, I was wondering how the Steelers could possibly manage to not have their first losing season in a decade, especially with dates against Cincinnati and Green Bay on the horizon.

Yet, here is Pittsburgh, with a home date against the Browns (4-11) this Sunday to close out the regular season, a .500 season is more than a realistic possibility.

A week ago, I didn't want to even care about this game. Now, thanks to circumstances and the NFL schedule-makers, as long as the Steelers win on Sunday afternoon, I may still have a reason to care until early Sunday evening.

A lot of things still must happen for Pittsburgh to sneak into the postseason. Some of those things seem realistic. Others (why would the Chiefs have any reason to care?), not so much.

Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it's amazing that the 2013 team managed to one-up the 2012 edition in terms of relevancy.

Some of the more optimistic fans out there might say something like, "Told you never to doubt this team!" But parity (or perhaps mediocrity) is one of the reasons I'm able to write this article today. Most of the problems which have hindered the Steelers recently--age, injuries, underwhelming drafts and finances--will still be around in 2014, and winning a tiebreaker certainly won't make them go away.

But while the 2013 Steelers shouldn't waste too much time patting themselves on the back, they should be commended for not giving up and managing to work through a lot of those previously mentioned problems to get to the point where they're able to take advantage of Pete Rozelle's vision, many years ago.

And I believe that commendation should start with Mike Tomlin, because, like every coach or manager in any sport at any level, he certainly has been and will continue to be condemned when things go wrong.

For all the talk of Tomlin winning with Bill Cowher's players, as well as the usual coaching criticisms directed his way, his teams have been postseason relevant every week but one since he took over in 2007. After some of the things that have happened during his tenure--including Ben Roethlisberger's four game suspension in 2010--it should be a testament to Tomlin's coaching abilities that he's kept every single one of his teams relevant late into December--not even Cowher could say that, even with his own players.

But that's a story for another day.

No, many of the Steelers problems won't go away by them simply sneaking into the postseason, but for the players and the fans, it sure would take the edge off.

One of the reasons so many long-time fans love the 1989 Steelers is because of what they had to overcome just to make it to that heartbreaking playoff loss in Denver.

After finishing 5-11 the season before, the Steelers lost their first two games by a combined score of 92-10 and were a very poor 4-6 after 10 weeks. Yet, somehow, someway, they were able to win four games down the stretch to put themselves in position for all those miraculous playoff scenarios to unfold during the final week.

The stunning and exciting overtime victory in Houston in the wildcard game didn't take away the problems the team accrued in the post-Super Bowl malaise of the 80s; and the momentum didn't carryover into the next couple of seasons, but it certainly was an exciting and unexpected chapter in franchise history that many cherish to this very day.

This Sunday, I don't know if I'll be happy or disappointed, but just the simple fact that a strong emotion will follow the final regular season game of the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers is pretty amazing.

Here they still are, indeed.