By Teresa Varley
It's probably the hottest topic among Steelers fans and the media this week, but one thing you aren't going to hear from the players is talk about the various scenarios that could land the black and gold in the playoffs.
For those that want to know, it goes a little something like this. The Steelers must win and then there are three scenarios that would give them a wildcard playoff spot: Houston and New York lose or tie; Houston and Baltimore lose or tie; or the Jets, Baltimore and Denver lose or tie.
In the Steelers locker room, only one thing matters.
"The first step is you have to win," said tackle Max Starks. "You can't worry about what else is going to happen. We have to win and everything else falls into place. Winning makes it harder on everybody else when we do that. The most important thing is you have to go out there and play. You can't worry about scenarios, if this is going to happen or if that happens. You go out and win and leave everything else there."
Houston hosts New England at 1 p.m., but the Steelers will have to wait awhile for the outcome of the other games that impact them as Baltimore is at Oakland and Denver hosts Kansas City at 4:15, while Cincinnati is at the New York Jets at 8:20.
"I am sure that just because of our human nature we are going to be looking up at the scoreboard and seeing what is going on in the other games," said center Justin Hartwig. "We still have to stay singularly focused."
While it will be a waiting game, the hope is that the outcome of the later games will still matter once the Steelers-Dolphins game is over.
"I am sure we will get updates on the airplane on the way back," said Starks. "At the end of the night I will find out one way or another if I have to come in and get treatment on Monday or if we start to plan our offseason." Last year the Steelers clinched a playoff berth and the AFC North title with a win over the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 14. Not knowing their fate going into the final game of the season this year is something that they don't relish.
"It's weird being in limbo," said Hartwig. "We don't know if we are going to have a game next week. Our season could be over on Sunday or we could be in the playoffs. We could keep this thing going. It's just a different mindset knowing what to expect and what not to expect. We just can't get too caught up in that. We just have to focus on winning. That's all we can control.
"I would love to be going into Sunday knowing that if we win the game we are going to be in the playoffs. Our mindset is still the same. It's just the way it is. We don't control our destiny. As Coach (Mike) Tomlin says we made our bed we have to sleep in it."
One thing that the team does have in their advantage is when their backs are against the wall, this is a group that normally responds well.
"As long as you get in the show, how you get in there is what makes the difference," said Starks. "When you are grinding out every week and tomorrow is never promised, it tends to put a sense of urgency on a player. I think we rise to the occasion a lot more with this core group we have here that has been through all of these battles. We know what it takes once we have the opportunity."
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Safety Troy Polamalu practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, wearing a brace on his left knee, but his status for Sunday's game in Miami has not been determined.
"Whenever you take this much time off it's kind of a mix of everything," said Polamalu. "It's trying to get your nervous system right, trying to get muscle bulk from the atrophy, trying to get some strength back."