It's a relatively common idiom that had its origins during World War II, and at the time it referred to pilots returning from missions in damaged aircraft. The phrase was incorporated into a 1943 patriotic song written by Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh.
On a wing and a prayer.
Drop the 'g,' and the idiom can be molded into a description of what's left of the Steelers' playoff hopes for 2013.
Win and pray.
That's where the Steelers are following yesterday's loss to the Dolphins, an outcome that was doubly damaging in that it not only dropped the Steelers to 5-8, but it also elevated to 7-6 a Miami team against which they were competing for the final playoff spot.
As the final game of the NFL's Week 14 schedule involving the AFC came to an end yesterday, the top teams in each of the conference's four divisions all had secured their status to some degree, either by winning themselves or through losses by their closest competition.
New England defeated Cleveland to get to 10-3 and maintain a three-game lead over the Dolphins in the East; Cincinnati got itself to 9-4 with a win over Indianapolis and has a two-game lead over Baltimore in the North; the Colts fell to 8-5 after losing to the Bengals but actually clinched the South after Tennessee got hammered by Denver; and the Broncos kept their hold atop the West and added to their AFC-best 11-2 record with their victory over the Titans.
The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with one more win, or with one more Dolphins loss, and New England has an inside track to one of the conference's two byes in the first round of the playoffs.
The Broncos, who already have clinched a spot in the playoffs, will claim the AFC West championship with wins in two of its final three games; a sweep of those three games will make Denver the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
WILD CARD SITUATION
There also is considerably more clarity regarding the race for the AFC's two Wild Card spots, even though nothing has been clinched, not even by the 10-3 Kansas City Chiefs, who spanked the Washington Redskins, 45-10, yesterday at FedEx Field, and have a firm grip on one of those Wild Cards.
Heading into Week 15 of the 2013 season, the AFC has a pair of 7-6 teams in the Ravens and Dolphins; a pair of 6-7 teams in the Chargers and Jets; and the Steelers currently find themselves in a group of two – along with the Titans – at 5-8 that most likely would have to win out and have their prayers answered.
"We still got jobs, we still got games to play," Ike Taylor said yesterday after the loss to the Dolphins. "No time to be whining and talking about the season, talking about the playoffs. We still got three left. So we got to go out there and show what we can do for these last three games."
Baltimore currently owns the final Wild Card spot over Miami, and that's based on a head-to-head win for the Ravens over the Dolphins in October. Of the 6-7 teams, San Diego is ranked ahead of the New York Jets based on a better winning percentage in conference games. Of the 5-8 teams, Tennessee is ahead of Pittsburgh because of that win over the Steelers in the season opener at Heinz Field.
So as they report to work today, the Steelers are 11th in a conference that offers just six playoff spots.
Here are the remaining games for each of the teams still competing for that final AFC Wild Card spot:
BALTIMORE: at Detroit (Monday), vs. New England; at Cincinnati
MIAMI: vs. New England, at Buffalo, vs. N.Y. Jets
SAN DIEGO: at Denver (Thursday), vs. Oakland, vs. Kansas City
N.Y. JETS: at Carolina, vs. Cleveland, at Miami
TENNESSEE: vs. Arizona, at Jacksonville, vs. Houston
PITTSBURGH: vs. Cincinnati, at Green Bay, vs. Cleveland
"It's late in the season, and when you lose these types of games, it's not a good feeling," said Jerricho Cotchery. "It's not a good feeling, especially when you start out the way we started out at 0-4. It's a tough, tough feeling right now. But we've got three more games to play."
All that's left for them is to win and pray.