Ben Roethlisberger has been in this situation before. It isn't his first rodeo on a Pittsburgh Steelers team that has five games remaining on their schedule, and just the smallest stumble during their stretch run could equate to the team missing the playoffs for the third straight year.
However, Roethlisberger is a captain and leader on this Steelers team, and he's determined to make sure the young corps of players understand what lies ahead. Simply put, the next game against the New Orleans Saints is the biggest on the schedule thus far.
"I absolutely think it is a must-win," Roethlisberger told Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We feel that this is a very important game and we have to put together a stretch of football like we never played before."
The Steelers have been on a nice stretch for the past five games, winning four of those contests. However, getting hot at the right time might mean more to this young team than anything else.
"This is must-win because if you get hot at the right time, that's when teams make runs and championships can be had," Roethlisberger said. "It is all about playing the best football this time of the year. November and December football is always must-win games. I don't care if you are undefeated or what or have the division locked up."
Although a loss to the NFC South Saints wouldn't be as big of a deal in terms of tie-breakers, it certainly would hurt the team's chances of capturing the coveted AFC North title and possibly hosting a playoff game at Heinz Field.
"This is a playoff game for us, and that's how we are going to treat it." Running back Le'Veon Bell said. It is that focus and determination that could propel a team through the month of December and into the post-season.
If this 2014 Steelers team has proven anything, it's that they can beat the best, but can also be beaten by the worst. Winning a game against a 4-7 opponent at home should be the beginning of a 5-game stretch where the Steelers put their fingerprint on the AFC Playoff picture.