Dropping last week's game to the Bengals effectively cedes a two-game lead to Larry Johnson's new squad. If the playoffs began today, everything would be quite tidy in the AFC with Division Leaders Colts, Bengals, Broncos and Patriots earning births. The phrase "1st round bye" and Cincinnati seem so crazy when put together, but that's how it's shaping up currently. San Diego, who is making a "charge" (Oh, God, that's abysmal) for the West title would grab the other Wild Card along with the Black and Gold. In case you care, we'd be up against the Pats in that scenario.
The Steelers now find themselves in the thick of the AFC Wild Card hunt. As if this wasn't the case from week one, now almost every AFC game (except vomit-inducing match ups like Browns/Lions) is potentially huge for us. This is reason #358 why the NFL kicks ass so heartily: as the season progresses our fandom causes us to give a shit about things we didn't think we would. Did I want Matt Schaub to die a fiery death in Week 1? Not really, but now I hope the Texans' team plane crashes. So, at least for now, I'm looking to break down these match ups in accordance with potential impact on Wild Card status. Remember: The theme here is SCORCHED EARTH - any outcome that could in any way impact the Steelers must be factored (and importance quantified with meaningless percentages). Team in CAPS = team to root for.
THURSDAY GAME:Dolphins @ PANTHERS
At 4-5, the Dolphins do not pose too much of a threat, but a) they play almost every Wild Card eligible team down the stretch and b) we end our season in Miami, so we best keep an eye on the Fish.
1 O'CLOCK GAMES:COLTS @ Ravens
It's hard to root for the Colts, especially when undefeated. But it's much, much more difficult to root for the Ravens. Along with the Texans, Baltimore represents the group of teams currently just outside the playoff "bubble" and all too capable of working their way in. After starting 3-0 the Ravens look more pedestrian than many thought and Brady Quinn's chop-block on Terrell Suggs looks to have further cemented them in mediocrity. God, I love inter-divisional hate crimes! But I'm still wary. The Colts have all but locked up the first round bye already, might as well have them go down to another team on another week.
Browns @ LIONS
This game is like dead-baby jokes: disturbing and yet, hilarious.
BILLS @ Jaguars
I thought the Jags were going to be a surprise Wild Card team and they still can be, but my guess is they'll come up just a little shy with a 9-7 record. Still, better for them to take a loss here.
4 O'CLOCK GAMES:Chargers @ BRONCOS
It's unlikely both of these teams will make the playoffs and it's looking more and more like the Broncos will be the odd squad out. The Steelers have the tie-breaker in either instance, so it's not that important, but the weaker the field in the playoffs, the better chance we'll have. Let's have one of those the-better-team-loses games with the Broncos staving of full scale implosion another week.
Bengals @ RAIDERS
The Bengals' schedule is absolute cake heading down the stretch, but obviously we'll all be pulling for them to lose every single week. Our only hope here is that they overlook the Raiders and somehow manage to screw the pooch.
JETS @ Patriots
I cannot, in good conscience, pull for the Patriots. Not yet. The Jets are fading and with remaining games against the Bengals, Falcons and Colts it is safe to say "Sanchize" won't be making the playoffs in year one.
MONDAY NIGHT GAME:
TITANS @ Texans
The Texans are an enigmatic bunch. Potent arial offense at times. Shitty ground game at others. But make no mistake: they can screw us over good. Remember, they're just a missed Kris Brown field goal (ha!) from being ahead of us in the standings. Meanwhile, the Titans under Vince Young have ripped off three wins in a row. But before the media gets all up on VY's junk consider that these wins were against teams with losing records at the time. Realistically, one more loss and they're probably eliminated from the playoff hunt. So, it's pull for the Titans to knock the Texans down a peg.
So, none of these game appear to matter THAT much. And looking at this particular slate of games may leave you rather apathetic. But taken in concert with one another (and Weeks 12-17) they'll determine both our playoff and potential match up destiny. And it's a great time of year! Thursday games! No more Bye Weeks! Coach firings!
Let me hear your take on all this rubbish in the comments.
UPDATE: CBS' 4 o'clock game coverage approach is interesting this week, with Pittsburgh and all points west of the Mississippi getting SAN/DEN and everything to the east (except Ohio) watching NYJ/NE.