Think that there’s no hope at all? And that they’ll have a better chance in 2019?
You only have to go back three years to realize there’s plenty of reason to believe the Pittsburgh Steelers season is not over.
With four losses over their past five games , the Steelers’ season has deteriorated to the point that they no longer control their fate to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. The Steelers (8-6-1) not only need to beat the lowly Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at home Sunday, they need the visiting Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) to beat the Baltimore Ravens (9-6), too, to win the AFC North. (Earning a wild card berth is almost impossible for the Steelers).
It was heading into the final weekend of the 2015 season that the Steelers faced a similar scenario. To qualify for the postseason, they needed a win – but that was the easy part. They were 13-point favorites at Cleveland; the Steelers obliged by beating the Browns, 28-12 .
The trick was hoping that an under-.500 Buffalo Bills team could beat the New York Jets that Jan. 3, 2016, afternoon. The Jets had won five consecutive games coming in, including beating the mighty New England Patriots the week before.
The Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions as the Bills went out to an early two-touchdown lead and held on for a 22-17 victory that sent the Steelers into the playoffs . They’d beat the Bengals in the wild-card game before losing at Denver in the divisional round .
The Bills that day were actually bigger underdogs than the Browns are this Sunday (those Jets were favored by eight points; the Browns opened as seven-point underdogs but that line is trending downward to about 5 ½).
Want more inspiration? It was almost three decades ago that the Steelers made the postseason for the final time under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. They entered the final Sunday of the 1989 season needing not only a win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but also losses by the Los Angeles Raiders (to the New York Giants), the Indianapolis Colts (to the New Orleans Saints) and the Cincinnati Bengals (to the Minnesota Vikings).
The Steelers, Raiders and Colts games were all on Christmas Eve – and each went the Steelers’ way, despite the Giants and Saints playing for no more than pride. So on Christmas Day the Monday night game was Bengals at Vikings; the winner made the playoffs and the loser stayed home. The kick was that the fates of the Green Bay Packers and Steelers also rested on the result of that game.
Minnesota won, 29-21, and the Steelers rejoiced. They would upset the Oilers in Houston the following week but lose at No. 1 seed Denver in the divisional round.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.