Pittsburgh Steelers could be squeezed from AFC wild-card race

When looking at the AFC wild-card chase, the famous line from Dumb and Dumber comes to mind.



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Your team might have anywhere between four and six wins, and you can start to get excited.

"So you're telling me there's a chance."

Yes, Lloyd. Yes we are.

The favorites have flaws. The underdogs have easy schedules. (Of course, there's also a reason that they're 4-6 in the first place.)

Let's examine the insanity. Here's a breakdown of the teams in the running.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)

Pittsburgh has a problem: The Steelers can't complete the forward pass. Byron Leftwich was wretched in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He was clearly injured, with the Ravens treating his body like it was a rag doll. Yet Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't remove Leftwich from the game. It was stunning.

Leftwich reportedly broke his ribs, and now Charlie Batch is likely in line to start for the Steelers against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. That would truly make the game a toss-up. Batch is ancient, and the staff lacked the trust to play him last weekend.

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I like quarterback Brian Hoyer, who the Steelers signed on Tuesday. I was surprised he was on the street as long as he was. I also like the Plaxico Burress pick-up. He will help in the red zone and be on his best behavior for Tomlin. But it will take time to get acclimated. And time is an issue.

I believe the genius of Ben Roethlisberger was that he masked the Steelers' many injures and areas of deficiency. Pittsburgh can run with authority. With the exception of what happened Sunday night, they are well-coached. But with no real quarterback until Big Ben comes back, road games against the Ravens and Dallas Cowboys (and even home games against the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals) will be dog fights.

Remember, the Steelers are just 3-4 in the AFC. That Week 16 home matchup against the Bengals looms large.

If Big Ben can return and play like the elite quarterback he is, the Steelers will go to the playoffs. If he can't, all bets are off.

Indianapolis Colts (6-4)

The Colts got their collective clocks cleaned by the New England Patriots, getting thumped to the tune of 59 points. The Colts went up a class in terms of competition, and it showed.

I think the Colts will bounce back this week against the Buffalo Bills. They had better, at any rate; they would be getting a needed win against an AFC opponent. Indianapolis also doesn't want to give the Bills life (more on that later).

Indy has proven this year it can take a punch. The Colts were humbled by the New York Jets, of all teams, and then rattled off wins against the Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Indianapolis has a relatively tough schedule, facing the Houston Texans twice in the final three weeks of the regular season. But I believe in Andrew Luck too much. He's too good and too focused. I think the Colts win four more games (against the Bills, Lions, Titans and Chiefs) and reach the magic number of 10.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)

This team fascinates me. In the preseason, I thought the Bengals would win nine. Cincy did start out on fire before suffering an unacceptable slump against inferior teams. But when they beat the New York Giants two weeks ago, they proved they would be a factor.

One of their inexplicable losses came against the Browns. Star receiver A.J. Green told me on SiriusXM Blitz last week that the Bengals would never look past another team.

"We lost to freaking Cleveland," he lamented.

Well said.

The Bengals are young, but talented and well-coached, and have expert coordinators in Mike Zimmer (defense) and Jay Gruden (offense). Cincy's pass rush is strong. Rookie Vontaze Burfict and the linebackers have exceeded expectations. Leon Hall is solid. Terence Newman, having been reunited with Zimmer, is drinking from the fountain of youth. And ever since Marvin Lewis challenged Andy Dalton to be a better leader, the quarterback has been the epitome of toughness. Green, meanwhile, is the best receiver in the NFL this year.

Cincy has the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers coming up next, after which the Bengals should be 7-5. Then they should beat the Dallas Cowboys and embarrassing Philadelphia Eagles (on the road) before taking the aforementioned trip to Pittsburgh and hosting the Ravens.

Cincy's youth makes the team impossible to predict. But I'm buying the Bengals.

San Diego Chargers (4-6)

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The Chargers' season ended when they collapsed against the Denver Broncos in Week 6. I wrote it at the time. Head coach Norv Turner is done. General manager A.J. Smith has run this team into the ground. Quarterback Philip Rivers is a shell of his former self.

When our old pal Lloyd said there was a chance, he wasn't factoring Norv into the equation.

Tennessee Titans (4-6)

I loved what I saw from Mike Munchak's team against the Dolphins in Week 10. The Titans humiliated Miami one week after being destroyed by the Chicago Bears and dressed down by owner Bud Adams. When I talked to Munchak last week on SiriusXM NFL Radio, he stressed the toughness and togetherness of his team.

Running back Chris Johnson is a factor once again. Linebacker Colin McCarthy is healthy; even in his second year, he's the energizer bunny, the playmaker and team leader on defense.

But while I like quarterback Jake Locker's talent and upside, he still needs to grow. Road games in Indianapolis and Green Bay, plus a home game against the Houston Texans, won't help the cause.

New York Jets (4-6)

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The good news for the Jets is that they have a favorable schedule down the stretch. They have the New England Patriots (sans Rob Gronkowski) on Thanksgiving. Then the offensively challenged Cardinals come to town before the Jets visit the Jaguars and Titans, host the Chargers and finally travel to Buffalo. The Jets' defense has also hit a nice groove over the past two weeks.

The bad news for the Jets is that it's impossible to trust the Jets.

Mark Sanchez played his most efficient game of the year against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. But he's been way too inept and inconsistent to bank on. The Jets lack weapons. And there's always drama and negativity.

I think the best the Jets can do is 8-8.

Buffalo Bills (4-6)

For giggles, I will tell you that Buffalo gets the Jaguars and Rams at home in the first two weeks of December. If the Bills could win in Indy on Sunday, they would gain tremendous confidence and momentum. But who can bank on Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mario Williams and Chan Gailey during this season of grotesque underachievement?

Miami Dolphins (4-6)

In his weekly interview on SiriusXM Blitz, Joe Philbin was lamenting to me how Miami has lost its way running the ball and stopping the run. Ryan Tannehill has also been looking like the neophyte he is.

Philbin has proven he can coach. Just wait until next season, when the Dolphins get more talent.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.