By Alan Robinson
If you’re a Steelers fan, you also need to be a Jets fan.
It might be difficult. It might go against all you value. It might pain you to have to root for a team that is coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. It might trouble you to root for a team that still writes a pay check for Mark Sanchez.
Here’s why: The Jets help offer the one circuitous route to the playoffs that still remains for the Steelers.
After beating the Bengals 30-20 on Sunday night, here’s what the Steelers need to happen:
— The Steelers (6-8), of course, must beat the revitalized Packers (7-6-1) on Sunday in Green Bay and the Browns (4-10) at Heinz Field on Dec. 29. One loss leaves the Steelers out of the playoffs and saddled with their first losing record since they were 6-10 in 2003.
— The Ravens (7-6) must lose two of their three remaining games. They play at the Lions (7-6) on Monday night, the Patriots (10-4) at home on Sunday and at the Bengals (9-5) on Dec. 29. The Bengals, by the way, finish up at home against the Vikings and Ravens as they try to secure the AFC North title.
— The hot Dolphins (8-6) must go cold in a hurry and lose to the Bills (5-9) in Buffalo on Sunday and to the Jets (6-8) in Miami on Dec. 29. One Dolphins victory eliminates the Steelers because Pittsburgh cannot get to nine wins.
— The Chargers (7-7) must lose once as they finish up the season at home, either to the Raiders (4-10) on Sunday or to the Chiefs (11-3) on Dec. 29.
— The Jets not only must beat the Dolphins, they must win Sunday in the Meadowlands against the Browns. Even if the Dolphins lose their final two, it is imperative to the Steelers that the Jets also beat Browns because the Dolphins own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh.
If they all scenarios play out, the Steelers, Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers and Jets all would be 8-8. Because ties are broken first INSIDE THE DIVISION, the Steelers would eliminate the Ravens based on a better division record. Similarly, the Jets would eliminate the Dolphins because of a better division record.
The Steelers then would eliminate the Jets based on head-to-head play (the Steelers’ 19-3 win on Oct. 13) and the Chargers based on a better conference record.
Too much to hope for? The 1989 Steelers faced a similar situation going into the last weekend of the season. When the Oilers beat the Browns, 24-20, in a Saturday game to clinch the AFC Central, the Steelers had a very narrow path to the postseason:
— The Steelers (8-7) had to win at Tampa Bay (5-10).
— The Raiders (8-7) had to lose at the New York Giants (11-4).
— The Colts (8-7) had to lose at the Saints (8-7).
— The Dolphins (8-7) had to lose at home to the Chiefs (7-7-1).
— The Bengals (8-7) had to lose at Minnesota (9-6).
All of the above happened, capped off with a Vikings 29-21 win in a Christmas night game against Cincinnati (more than 24 hours after the Steelers won in Tampa). And those Steelers went on to upset the Oilers in Houston in an AFC wild-card game, then lost narrowly at Denver to just miss reaching the AFC title game — and in a season that began with a 51-0 loss to the Browns and a 41-10 loss to the Bengals.