If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, then every day would be Christmas (or is it “onlys and justs,” as Dwight Schrute claims)! That said, there are still, as there always is in week 17 each season, some intriguing scenarios that can make vast changes to the current NFL playoff picture. And despite all you scrooges who’ve already torn down your decorations, isn’t it still, like, the 7th day of Christmas? Shouldn’t there still be some swans a-swimming? Bring on the IFs and BUTs!
I should first give some due credit to the NFL. Every game this weekend is a divisional matchup, which is why so many scenarios exist, making almost every game a meaningful one. They even "flexed" some of the game times so that a game that impacts another are played at the same time, so no players are rested and no coaches concoct a preseasonish gameplan.
4:15: Pittsburgh @ Cleveland
4:15: Baltimore @ Cincinnati
IF Pittsburgh wins, they might just stay where they are—the wild card 5th seed, playing on the road at whatever mediocre team decides to claim the AFC West, neither of which is led by Philip Rivers, who might finally be deemed the overrated failure he really is. If the Steelers visit Oakland, they should easily contain the 13th ranked offense while walking all over the 29th ranked defense. If they visit Denver, they just have to ward off the Tebow magic, much like the Bills did last week—a Christmas miracle, a month in the making. A Steelers-Broncos matchup would result in Tim Tebowing not because of a play for which to be grateful, but for a massive headache brought on by hit after hit after (undoubtedly fined) hit.
Here’s the magical part of this New Year’s Day that has Steelers fans, shut-out from the sellout up by the lake, traveling in droves to Cincinnati to temporarily sell their souls by becoming Bengals fans for a day. Why (I know…I think I just threw up in my mouth a little), you ask? Because if the Bengals knock off the Ravens (ok, now I KNOW I just did), the Steelers take the AFC North and earn a 1st round bye, as long as they take care of the Clowns! This was also the scenario in the lights-out, San Francisco thumping the Steelers received after Roethlisberger sprained his ankle in the last Browns matchup. However, Pittsburgh mysteriously had no answer for Alex Smith’s (really?) stellar short-passing game and could not take advantage of the Ravens’ last loss.
And finally, for those Ralphies out there who believe if they really really wish for it, they’ll get what they want for Christmas, the Steelers could still take the AFC’s top seed, guaranteeing that all Steelers playoff games would be played at Heinz Field. All that takes is the obvious Steelers win, the aforementioned Bengals win, and a New England loss to the Bills (hey, it happened once already this season!).
Why spend so much time discussing IFs and BUTs rather than Big Ben’s contorted ankle that looked* as if it were going to end his season (if not his career) or what kind of chance the Steelers have against the Browns? Well…given the umpteenth epic coaching fail right before halftime last week (I knew Shurmur was a good guy but just because it was Christmas Eve doesn’t mean you gift-wrap failure!), I think it’s safe to say there really isn’t much worth discussing.
Oh yeah, and Steelers 27, Browns 10. And just to clarify, the Cleveland touchdown will be from the defense or special teams.