Sure, when the 2015 season started the Pittsburgh Steelers had aspirations of winning back-to-back division titles. Winning the division is on every NFL team's checklist before the new season begins, but for every team but 8, it simply isn't in the cards.
With the Cincinnati Bengals entering Week 10 with an 8-0 record, and the second place Steelers 5-4, it certainly makes the division seem out of reach. Granted, there are those who will read the previous sentence and say, "There is still half a season to play..." and this is true; however, the Bengals have the easiest schedule remaining in the NFL, and show no signs of fading anytime soon.
For the Steelers, and their fans, it might be time to adjust the lens a bit and start focusing on a new goal, and that being to claim the 5th seed in the AFC Playoffs. As Pittsburgh prepares for the Cleveland Browns in Week 10, they are in sole possession of the 6th seed in the AFC Playoff Picture. The New York Jets hold the keys to the 5th seed heading into this weekend's NFL action.
In golf there is a saying for a player who gets off to a slow start, with the hope of turning it around with the holes still remaining on the scorecard. "There is a lot of paper left." And for the Steelers, there is a lot of paper left, but the reasons for wanting the 5th seed in the postseason certainly are valid when looking at the complete scenario.
With the Denver Broncos record standing at 7-1, behind the Bengals and New England Patriots in the AFC standings, it would seemingly be a toss up between those three teams as to who claims the third seed in the 2015 AFC postseason. The reason such a statement can be said with such certainty is the current state of the AFC South.
The AFC South is the worst division in the AFC, and possibly in the NFL as well. The Indianapolis Colts are leading the division at 4-5, and just got the news they will be without Andrew Luck for 2-6 weeks with a lacerated internal organ and an abdominal tear. The Houston Texans, quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer, are in second place at 3-5, and the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are still alive at 2-6. Yes, a 2-6 team is still considered "in the hunt" when it comes to the division race.
Either way you slice it, the AFC South will be represented by one team, and they will be granted the 4th seed and a home game in the Wild Card round. For the Steelers, would you rather travel to play the Colts, Texans, Jaguars or Titans, or get on a plane to Cincinnati, New England or Denver? Easy decision...you'll take whatever the AFC South has to offer in the postseason.
For this to happen the Steelers need to claim that 5th seed, and not the 6th seed which they currently possess. A lot can take place over the course of 7 games. Injuries can alter the entire landscape of the playoff picture, the Steelers know that all too well, but it might be time to start taking the focus away from the division crown and solely on that No. 5 seed in the playoffs.
Who stands in their way? As stated earlier, the Jets currently claim the 5th seed with a 5-3 record, as they prepare for a Thursday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills and Oakland Raiders are both 4-4 and certainly in the hunt as well. The Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans are all 3-5 and still in the hunt if they can get on a hot streak down the stretch.
The AFC Playoff Picture is currently wide open, and the Steelers control their own destiny with 7 games remaining. Beating the Browns in Week 10 is the first step, but it is never too early to keep an eye on the prize. The prize for the Steelers just happens to be that shiny No. 5 seed in the playoffs.