Steelers need wins, plus help

In terms of the on-field events taking place across the NFL yesterday, the Steelers saw things go about as well as was possible. Their playoff hopes still hinge on winning and getting some help, but following their own personal Black Friday that had them put a second starting center on injured reserve this season, even the part of the equation under their control became more difficult.

As for the events of Sunday, only one of the AFC's 5-6 teams won, and that was going to be inevitable because one of the games pitted the 5-6 Dolphins at the 5-6 Jets. And even at that, Miami winning was not a calamitous event because the Steelers will have a chance to deal with the Dolphins personally at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Heinz Field.

The day's critical game involved the AFC North leading Bengals in San Diego to face a Chargers team coming off an upset win over Kansas City and about to begin a favorable portion of their schedule to include three home games over the final four weeks of the regular season.

Had the Steelers defeated the Ravens, the prudent plan for their fans would have been to root for the Chargers to win and drop the Bengals to 7-5 to put the AFC North title back in play, but after Baltimore defeated Pittsburgh it became more important for Cincinnati to send San Diego to 5-7. And that's what happened when the Bengals traveled three times zones and showed their grit in a 17-10 victory.

Another important game matched the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts and the Titans, who would bring a head-to-head win over the Steelers into any scenario involving tiebreakers. The Colts won to reinforce their hold on the division lead, but more importantly to the Steelers it made the Titans a member of the quartet of teams at 5-7.

And so as Week 14 of the NFL season is set to begin, the division leaders are New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Denver, with Kansas City an apparent lock for one of the conference's two Wild Card berths. In the competition for that second Wild Card spot, there are two teams at 6-6 (Baltimore and Miami), and four more at 5-7 (Tennessee, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and the New York Jets).

The remaining games for those six AFC teams are:

BALTIMORE: vs. Minnesota, at Detroit (Monday), vs. New England; at Cincinnati
MIAMI: at Pittsburgh, vs. New England, at Buffalo, vs. N.Y. Jets
TENNESSEE: at Denver, vs. Arizona, at Jacksonville, vs. Houston
PITTSBURGH: vs. Miami, vs. Cincinnati, at Green Bay, vs. Cleveland
SAN DIEGO: vs. N.Y. Giants, at Denver (Thursday), vs. Oakland, vs. Kansas City
N.Y. JETS: vs. Oakland, at Carolina, vs. Cleveland, at Minnesota

But while their fans begin to delve into all of the possible permutations of the final four weekends, before they can decipher which teams need to win which games to keep the Steelers' playoff hopes alive, Coach Mike Tomlin and his offensive staff have to re-make the offensive line once again.

Velasco, who had so admirably replaced Maurkice Pouncey at center beginning with the second game of the season, is on injured reserve, and during the loss to the Ravens three other offensive linemen were injured – David DeCastro (foot), Kelvin Beachum (knee), and Mike Adams (ankle).

That's a center, one right guard, and two left tackles in injury limbo, which leaves the Steelers with Guy Whimper, Cody Wallace, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert, plus the two guys who were signed about 72 hours ago – offensive tackle Rashad Butler and center Eric Olsen. Further complicating the issue was Butler's decision on Monday morning to leave the team for personal reasons.

The severity of the injuries to DeCastro, Beachum, and Adams should be clarified to some degree during Tomlin 's news conference tomorrow, but none of it can be characterized as a positive development for a team having to win its remaining games and pray for help to keep its playoff hopes alive.

Even after a weekend where they got all the help they could.

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