Steelers not in control of playoff fate

The Pittsburgh Steelers may think they only need to win out to make the playoffs, but that's not necessarily the case.

PITTSBURGH – How the Pittsburgh Steelers fit into the NFL playoff picture is the hot topic around office water coolers and internet chat rooms this week, but the players are oblivious. At least that's what a sampling revealed yesterday.

"We're in front right now," said Chris Hope. "If we win out, we're going to make the playoffs."

Others said much of the same, but it's not true.

If the Steelers win Saturday at Cleveland (5-9), and then beat the Detroit Lions (4-10) the following week at Heinz Field, they'll finish 11-5.

Two scenarios would make them the second team in NFL history to go 11-5 and not make the playoffs. The Denver Broncos finished 11-5 in 1985 and didn't qualify.

The two scenarios are:

1.) The Steelers finish tied for a wild-card spot with the Broncos (11-3).

The Broncos would have to lose their remaining games -- home against the Oakland Raiders (4-10) and at the San Diego Chargers (9-5) – and the Chargers would have to win their final two games. The Chargers would win the division because of a better division record. The Broncos would eliminate the Steelers with a better conference record.

2.) The Steelers finish in a three-way tie with the Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4).

Left on the Chargers' schedule is a game at the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) and a home game against the Broncos.

Left on the Jaguars' schedule is a game at the Houston Texans (2-12) and a home game against the Tennessee Titans (4-10).

If the three teams finish tied, the two remaining spots would go to the Chargers and Jaguars because of conference record.

The problem for the Steelers is that the Jaguars would lack motivation to win their last game should they win Sunday at Houston and clinch their playoff berth. But there are a few reasons why the Jaguars would like to beat the Titans, and one is that they dislike the Titans.

The two teams go back to the days of the old AFC Central Division. They've carried that rivalry into the new AFC South Division, and it's intense. The Jaguars beat the Titans last month, 31-28. The teams split last year, with the Jaguars breaking a five-game losing streak to the Titans.

The Jaguars would also like to finish the season 12-4 for the second-best record in team history. Under Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars were 14-2 in 1999 and 11-5 in both 1998 and 1997. Obviously, coach Jack Del Rio would like to carve out his own niche in team history.

The Jaguars also owe the Steelers from a year ago. The Jaguars needed the Steelers to beat the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale. The Steelers were already locked into the first seed and rested four starters, but they beat the contending Bills, 29-24. It didn't help the Jaguars, who were eliminated when the Indianapolis Colts lost a meaningless game to the Broncos.

"You really opened my eyes," said Mike Logan. "But I'm not too worried. I just think that even if the Jaguars rest a couple guys, I think they'll still come through and win because of pride. Coach (Jack) Del Rio isn't going to allow any letdown on his team. But that's something to think about now. We've got to handle the business on our end, and I think we'll do that, but that kind of surprises me."

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