'In the mix'

Cornerback Joe Haden admits he's been checking the standings, but he's quick to add that's a result of having landed in Pittsburgh after spending his first seven NFL seasons in Cleveland.

"I'm not going to lie to you, since I got here I like looking at the standings, just being in the mix, like (head) coach (Mike) Tomlin says, as the road gets narrow," Haden acknowledged. "Keeping it in perspective, but just looking at the picture after your game, seeing what everybody else does, seeing how everything else falls, I like looking at it."

Those looking at the conference standings this week will see the Steelers (7-2-1) hot on the heels of the Kansas City Chiefs (9-2-0) for the best record in the AFC.

That helps explain Haden's interest in Monday night's shootout in Los Angeles between the Chiefs and the Rams, who managed to outlast Kansas City, 54-51.

"For sure I was rooting for the Rams to win," Haden said.

Guard Ramon Foster was, too.

"You pull for the NFC in situations like that," he said.

The Patriots, Texans and Chargers are all 7-3-0 and in very close proximity to the Chiefs and the Steelers.

So there's a horserace shaping up for the two top spots in the conference and the two first-round byes in the AFC playoffs.

"None of that really matters unless we handle our business," Foster said. "But that's one of our things, win our division, position ourselves No. 1 or No. 2 and see what happens after that."

The Steelers had a bye last season and didn't make it our of the second round.

And they were a wild card in 2005 and wound up winning the Super Bowl.

There are no guarantees either way, and the Steelers know it.

But all things being equal they'd rather have a bye than not.

"It helps to have it," Foster said. "This time of year, teams are starting to leak a little bit. Having that extra time, maybe where you get a guy back, you just need it, honesty, just the rest part of it.

"It's important."

The Steelers have a grasp of not only where they want to go, but how they intend to get there.

"Just stay focused," Foster said. "We acknowledge it's our ultimate goal, to get that and go deep in the playoffs, Super Bowl, that's forever the situation here.

"Overall records and AFC positioning is huge right now."

Added cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: "We want to get the top spot just because we're all competitors."

The way to get there, Sensabaugh said, is "we just control our business and wherever the chips fall, they fall."

Sensabaugh said this week he was unaware who currently occupied the top spot in the AFC.

"I don't pay much attention to that," he said. "I will at the end of the year.

"Right now it really doesn't matter much."

It doesn't to outside linebacker Bud Dupree, either.

"Not yet," he said. 'We'll wait until the end of the season and then see where everything goes."

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