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Steelers vs. Jets: A big storyline to follow the Steelers, win or lose, in Week 9

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The Steelers have overcome quite a bit to get to 6-3 on the season. Moving to 7-3 and facing another road favorite challenge next week will be critical in the bigger picture of the 2014 season.

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The Steelers have a big storyline that will follow this game, win or lose.

Win, and it's first place for a full week for the first time since the middle of the 2012 season. Lose and it's another loss to an underdog and another blown opportunity to exploit the misfortunes of the Steelers' divisional opponents.

A win would also represent the Steelers' first four-game winning streak since, incidentally, Weeks 7-10 of the 2012 season. Very similar to this season was a 2012 Steelers team that couldn't quite get in rhythm during the first few weeks of the season, but caught fire at the midway point. They gutted-out big, run-heavy wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins and New York Giants, and then needed an interception in overtime to beat the Kansas City Chiefs after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger would miss the next three games, with the team going 1-2 against Cleveland and Baltimore twice, sending them back into the bottom half of the division. Roethlisberger was never the same the rest of the season and the Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

James Harrison destroyed the Baltimore Ravens.

A loss would largely shatter the rising optimism in Pittsburgh that this team can take control of the AFC North, not just by scoring upsets over favored Indianapolis and Baltimore, but by winning as road favorites. They're favored by six over the host Jets.

It's particularly important, considering they face a tougher task in Week 11 - a prime-time game at Tennessee, a team against whom the Steelers have struggled quite a bit during the last few years. The Titans won the last two times they've played, including a 26-23 prime-time game in Nashville in 2012.

The Steelers have a bye in Week 12 and sitting at 8-3 heading into that week would ensure them of at least a share of the division lead with five games left to play. Two losses would put the Steelers at 6-5 and likely on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture. An 8-8 record was good enough for an AFC team to quality for the post-season last year, but that's not likely to be the case now.

While the upstart Cleveland Browns remained hot with a big win over the Bengals in Week 9, and with the Ravens (losers of two in a row) and Bengals (perhaps their worst performance in the last several years against Cleveland) slumping, the Steelers need to take care of their own business this week, then do the same at Tennessee. What fans see out of this team in its next two games will largely define where they will end up at the end of the season.