Pittsburgh needs help from unexpected sources if it is to make the playoffs and get a chance to defend its Super Bowl championship.
First and foremost, the Steelers must win at Miami. They also need help from New England and Cincinnati. Few teams other than Baltimore have been bigger rivals for the Steelers over the past decade than the Patriots and Bengals. New England beat them in two AFC championship games in Pittsburgh and challenged their Super Bowl era of the 1970s by winning three in four years. The Bengals long have been rivals in the AFC North and old Central divisions, and were knocked out of the playoffs by the Steelers in the 2005 season. In 2006, Pittsburgh kept Cincinnati out of the playoffs with an overtime win in the 16th game.
For the Steelers to make the postseason, they must hope at least one of those teams and most likely both win on Sunday in meaningless games to each of them. New England closes at Houston and Cincinnati at the New York Jets.
There are three ways in which the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot Sunday if they win or tie Miami:
--Houston loss or tie and New York Jets loss or tie.
--Houston loss or tie and Baltimore loss or tie.
--New York Jets loss or tie, Baltimore loss or tie and Denver loss or tie.
The odds are against it, and if they do not make it the Steelers will know their run at the playoffs was not derailed on the final Sunday, but much earlier during a five-game losing streak that included upsets to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland.
"We have nobody to blame but ourselves," offensive tackle Willie Colon said after the Steelers won their second straight, 23-20, over Baltimore Sunday.
"We got ourselves into this hole and we're just trying to fight our way back out," said defensive end Brett Keisel.
The Steelers were riding a five-game winning streak at 6-2 when they lost a close one at home to Cincinnati. Then everything fell apart as they lost to double-digit underdogs the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns around an overtime loss at Baltimore that Ben Roethlisberger sat out with headaches.
Had any one of those been victories, they would clinch a playoff spot by beating the Dolphins.
"This is our bed ... We put ourselves into this position," coach Mike Tomlin said.
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