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The Steelers can still make the playoffs, and that matters

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Injury-riddled and currently 4-4, the Steelers chances at a seventh Lombardi might be pretty slim this year. However, they can still make the playoffs and maybe even win a game once they get there. For fans, there's still a lot to look forward to as Pittsburgh starts off the second half of its schedule with a very important game against the 4-3 Raiders this Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of the Steelers come-from-ahead loss to Cincinnati at Heinz Field last Sunday, I saw a few fans online doing some face-saving trash-talking to Bengals fans by saying stuff like, "I'll have you know, WhoDeySay76, the Steelers faced a similar predicament 10 years ago after a loss to the Bungals at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh was left for dead but rebounded to make the playoffs as a sixth seed and went on to win the franchise's fifth Super Bowl. I'm predicting right now the Steelers will bounce back from this loss to the Bungals and win their seventh Lombardi. Shove that division up your a**!!!!!!!!!"

Whoa, slow down!

First of all, that 2005 team was a veteran group with very recent playoff experience. It had just made it to the AFC Championship game a year before after making it that far three years before that. In other words, those Steelers had actually won at least one playoff game over a five-year span, which is something you can't say about these current Steelers.

Secondly, Shamarko Thomas never started any games at safety that year, which might happen this Sunday against the Raiders, if Mike Mitchell doesn't pass the concussion protocol and Will Allen can't mend his ankle fast enough because of old age.

But that's how it always is with Steelers fans, isn't it? Like Gene Collier once said about you and me, there are only two things we notice about each season: Super Bowl. No Super Bowl. Speaking of online, you could probably read every Steelers article out there, and I'll bet you find at least one "seventh Lombardi" or a variation of that in each comments section.

The Steelers are currently 4-4 at the moment and have a host of season-ending injuries to try and overcome, with the latest being Le'Veon Bell's torn MCL that placed him on Injured Reserve a month removed from returning from a two-game suspension to start the year. You combine that with a fairly-stout schedule, and those comments about a seventh Lombardi might be seen again in 2016, because it's going to be pretty tough to have a parade in Downtown Pittsburgh in early February.

I may have failed to mention there are currently three undefeated teams in the AFC. One of them is the Patriots, who are playing like they need to win at least one Super Bowl without a cheating scandal that causes opposing fans to want an asterisk attached to it in the official record books (or in the case of Steelers fans, wanting those four Lombardi trophies shipped to Pittsburgh).

The second half is going to be a tough road for the Steelers, but guess what? They can still make the playoffs, and why? Because the AFC is kind of mediocre, which is ultimately what led to three 7-0 teams, all with huge leads in their respective divisions.

There are a lot of Steelers fans that simply don't care about the team making the playoffs if there isn't a realistic chance of winning the whole thing. I'll bet these are the same people who wouldn't be satisfied with winning some prizes after making it on stage in an episode of The Price Is Right.

"Dude, we saw you on TV! What was it like meeting Drew Carey?"


"But you won an entire living room set, and you got to spin that big wheel!"

"Yeah, but I didn't win the Showcase Showdown, so what's the point? I should have just tanked it and boned up on progressive Hungarian jazz from the early 1970s, so I could win the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions next year."

There are only five teams in the AFC with winning records. It's true that the Steelers aren't one of them, but that would all change this Sunday with a victory over Oakland at Heinz Field. Sure, the Raiders (4-3) aren't the doormats everyone  thought they would be, but they're still fairly mediocre and will be traveling from the West Coast to play a game at 10 a.m. (their time).  The Steelers have only been the Steelers everyone thought they would be once this year, and that was in Week 2, when the 49ers came to town and left 43-18 losers. Pittsburgh needs to make a statement this week and show everyone the team is still a legit playoff contender.

Or, heck, just win the game, 12-9.

Right now, the Steelers are 1-4 in the AFC, and a poor conference mark is often a killer come tiebreaker time, but head-to-head is the first deciding factor between two teams, and a victory over Oakland would be a very huge leg-up over the Silver and Black. After that, Cleveland comes to town, and if the Steelers manage to win that game, now you're talking about a 6-4 record and being in the same position you were one year earlier. In 2014, Pittsburgh finished 11-5 and won its first AFC North title in four seasons with a victory over the Bengals in the regular season finale. However, Pittsburgh won its 10th game a week earlier with a victory over the Chiefs and clinched at least a wild card berth.

The Steelers are currently the only .500 team in the AFC, with two teams sitting at 4-3, two teams sitting at 3-4 and two teams sitting at 3-5. If ever there was a year where both wild card entrants get in with 9-7 marks, it's this 2015 season.

Why not the Steelers?

Pittsburgh has to play the Seahawks, Bengals and Broncos after the bye on November 22, but there are also games against the mediocre Colts, Ravens and Browns. Basically, 9-7 seems reasonable, which may be good enough for a playoff spot, and the postseason always feels like a holiday when your team makes it.

You might treasure that time you went  to that regular season game with your dad in 1984, but I don't care. However, everyone cares about and remembers the playoffs. Postseason games are the ones that wind-up on Youtube before the NFL enforces its copyright infringement policy and has them removed.

And what about a playoff victory, remember what that felt like? Not since the 2010 AFC title game, played at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011, when Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown on third and six in the waning moments and Rex Ryan threw down his headsets, have the Steelers walked away from a playoff game victorious (that was three Maurkice Pouncey season-ending injuries ago).

Anyway, there is nothing like the week following a Steelers postseason victory, and it's something I'd like to experience again this year.

Unless the team doctors are lying, and Roethlisberger's MCL is as torn as Bell's, he should soon round back into shape and start playing like one of the top handful of quarterbacks in the NFL. Bell will be hard to play without, but the offense seemed to function really well during the two weeks he was suspended to start the year and combined for 917 yards and 64 points with DeAngelo Williams replacing Bell and Darrius Heyward-Bey filling-in for Martavis Bryant.

If the Steelers sneak into the playoffs and maybe even advance into the division round, that's something you can talk about and cherish for decades. I know, because I still get a thrill when I think back to the time Pittsburgh went to the Astrodome and knocked off the Oilers in the AFC Wild Card Game on December 31, 1989.

No, the Steelers didn't win the Showcase Showdown that year, but I'm still getting a lot of use out of that lovely dining room set.