By this time, the Steelers' path to the playoffs is a clear one, if not necessarily a simple one. For there to be a postseason for them, these are the things that must happen on Sunday, Dec. 29, the final day of the 2013 regular season:
The Steelers defeat the Browns in Pittsburgh;
The Jets defeat the Dolphins in Miami;
The Bengals defeat the Ravens in Cincinnati;
The Chiefs defeat the Chargers in San Diego.
That's the scenario, and here's how those respective teams will go into their Week 17 matchups:
N.Y. JETS AT MIAMI, 1 p.m., EST
Jets: Santa Claus brought the same present for Jets fans that he always does: drama. This particular time it involves Coach Rex Ryan. According to a Jay Glazer report, Ryan told him team before its game against Cleveland on Dec. 22 that, "the word on the street" was he was getting fired, so they should "ride with" him the last two games. The Jets went out and beat the Browns, 24-13, to get to 7-8 but were eliminated from playoff contention. Can the emotion of "Win 1 for Rex" overcome his team's 1-6 record on the road this season?
Dolphins: Last week in Buffalo, Miami rushed for 14 yards on 12 carries against the No. 26 ranked defense against the run, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 10-of-27 for 82 yards and injured his knee when he was sacked for a sixth time. Tannehill vows to play Sunday, and so the question is whether the offensive line – weakened by the losses of guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin – has enough to deal with a Jets defense ranked No. 3 against the run and No. 9 against the pass?
Playoff scenario: Miami clinches a playoff spot with a win and a loss or tie by the Ravens; or with a win and a win by the Chargers. There are also scenarios in which the Dolphins get into the playoffs following a tie game vs. the Jets.
BALTIMORE AT CINCINNATI, 1 p.m., EST
Ravens: Apparently, playing a road game on the previous Monday night was sufficiently taxing to cause that 41-7 loss to New England the following Sunday, at least according to Coach John Harbaugh. Using the schedule as an excuse aside, the Ravens now face a game in Cincinnati, where they have lost three of the last four to the Bengals, with an offense that put up 358 total yards against New England only to cancel it out with four turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Bengals: Already having clinched the AFC North, Cincinnati will be going to the playoffs for the third straight season for the first time in franchise history. While the Bengals are securely in the postseason, they could clinch a No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it with a win over the Ravens and a loss by New England, which hosts Buffalo. If the Bengals lose, and Indianapolis defeats Jacksonville, the Bengals would drop to the No. 4 seed in the conference and face a Wild Card game vs. Kansas City.
Playoff scenario: Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with a win and a loss or tie by the Chargers; or with a win and a loss or tie by the Dolphins; or with a loss and a loss by the Chargers and a loss or tie by the Steelers. There also are scenarios in which the Ravens make the playoffs following a tie game with the Bengals.
KANSAS CITY AT SAN DIEGO, 4:25 p.m., EST
Chiefs: It all comes down to how Coach Andy Reid wants to play it. His team is safely in the playoffs, and its seeding is secure because Denver has clinched the AFC West and the No. 1 seed in the conference. Reid indicated he will be resting some of his front-line players. "We'll mix and match. I'm going to work some guys in," Reid said. Translated, he'll play the starters a series or two and then go to the backups. Don't expect to see much of QB Alex Smith, RB Jamaal Charles, and OLB Tamba Hali. Reid's team is 2-4 after starting 9-0, and 2-5 is no way to go into a postseason.
Chargers: There also is an injury issue here, that being with RB Ryan Mathews, who injured his ankle last Sunday vs. Oakland. He was able to return, but he was wearing a protective boot after the game. Mathews is trying to play 16 games for the first time in his career, and the Chargers have leaned heavily on him – 83 carries for 329 yards – over the last three games. Unbelievably, San Diego has 2,500 tickets to see to have this potential playoff-clinching game televised locally.
Playoff scenario: San Diego clinches a playoff spot with a win and a loss or tie by Miami and a loss or tie by Baltimore. The Chargers also can get in with a tie vs. Kansas City if both the Dolphins and the Ravens lose.