Steelers Hoping There Is More Hope

The Steelers have taken their season down to the wire, but a win over the Cleveland Browns today is only one-fourth of their playoff matrix.

At his Steelers MVP press conference, Antonio Brown was asked to evaluate his performance this season.

"It's still not over," said Brown. "We have one game to go and hopefully there are still playoff hopes."

Hopefully there are hopes.

Surprisingly, there are.

Slim, but few would've given the Steelers even that two weeks ago after they had lost their second straight game.

Two weeks ago, the Steelers' chance of getting into the NFL playoffs were pegged at one percent by

Now, after back-to-back wins, and the echo of other necessary losses pinging throughout the league, the Steelers' chance of getting into the NFL playoffs, according to, is now nine percent.

Not bad, considering what still has to happen if the Steelers (7-8) defeat the Cleveland Browns (4-11) today at Heinz Field.

Beating the Browns will be the easy part; the Steelers are seven-point favorites. But the Steelers can only make the playoffs in a five-team tie at 8-8.

Here are the odds for the other teams who must fall into line:

* The Cincinnati Bengals are six-point favorites to beat the visiting Baltimore Ravens (8-7), since the Bengals still have a chance to earn a first-round bye with a win.

* The New York Jets (7-8) are six-point underdogs at the Miami Dolphins (8-7), and Steelers fans can hope for an emotional performance by the Jets to save Rex Ryan's job.

* The Kansas City Chiefs are nine-point underdogs at the San Diego Chargers (8-7) in a 4:25 p.m. game because the Chiefs can't change their playoff status and Coach Andy Reid has a history of resting starters in similar circumstances as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Reid's Eagles were 2-2 in those four meaningless end-of-season finales, so winning isn't out of the question.

Of course, in the Steelers' 2004 finale, Bill Cowher rested Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, Plaxico Burress and Deshea Townsend and the Steelers still went to Buffalo and beat the Bills, 29-24.

"That was a long time ago," Roethlisberger said this week. "I think every team and every situation is different. How banged up is your team? If you're banged up, it's a good opportunity to get rested. If you're playing pretty well and guys are healthy, well, it's a momentum thing. You can keep going and build your way into the post-season. I think every coach, every team's different."

Does Roethlisberger believe teams earn the right to rest players?

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "Whoever's making the decisions, they have the right. If a team goes undefeated and they don't have to play the last two or three games, they shouldn't have to. It's up to them. But I think a lot of players would want to play unless they're not quite healthy and they want to get that extra rest. A lot of those guys want to be out there and play."

The Chiefs don't kick off until 4:25 p.m. Sunday, most likely after the other three games have ended. So perhaps it won't matter by then.

But when the Steelers play the Browns, nothing will matter more to a Steelers team that's only the third in modern franchise history to post a losing record in the first half of the season and come back with a winning record in the second half.

Those two previous teams -- the 1976 and 2006 Steelers -- made the playoffs the following season and then went on to win Super Bowls the seasons after that.

These Steelers are 5-2 in the second half and have made clear statistical strides on both sides of the ball.

"Our football team as a whole has obviously improved," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "Hopefully, these young guys will learn from this experience and go out and play a good ballgame Sunday and see where the cards fall for us. We already worked a little magic last week, and they all fell for us. I've seen stranger things happen."

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