The Pittsburgh Steelers have clinched a spot in the 2011 AFC Playoffs, beating the Carolina Panthers soundly in their Thursday night game. It’s not like this game was very debatable, as the 10-4 Steelers hosted the 2-12 Panthers, but it was a matter of the Steelers simply showing how good they are right now. The game was never in question, as the Steelers defense held Carolina scoreless until the fourth quarter. On offense, the Steelers out-gained the Panthers 408-119, and now a division title is within the grasp of this team.
When Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season, it didn’t seem like the Steelers would be able to post a record this impressive by the end of the campaign. Now they are at 11-4, and it’s possible the Steelers could receive a first-round bye in the 2011 AFC Playoffs.
There is only one team with a better record than them in the AFC right now, and it is the AFC East-leading New England Patriots. All that Pittsburgh has to do to clinch the division title and that bye is beat the Cleveland Browns in their week 17 game.
Pittsburgh has been playing lights-out football for most of this season, and they have been in every game where they have lost. The worst loss was 39-26 against New England back on Nov. 14, but the other three games were very winnable. Losing by a field goal to Baltimore in week 4 has to still rub them the wrong way, but none of it matters if they can beat the Browns on the road Jan. 2.
The reason Pittsburgh would clinch the AFC North (despite splitting the season series with Baltimore), is that the Steelers would have the better record against division foes. If they beat the Browns, they will be 5-1 against other North teams, whereas the Ravens have already lost two division games.
The way things have gone for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010 may not have started out the way that they preferred, but now the franchise has the chance to add yet another Super Bowl title to their trophy case. In addition to Pittsburgh winning the North with a win on Jan. 2, another playoff scenario for them simply involves the Ravens losing one of their final two games. If the Ravens lose to either the Browns this week or the Cincinnati Bengals in week 17, then Pittsburgh will clinch no matter what takes place in their own game.
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