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MIRZA ZUKIC: Stranger things have happened

by on December 29, 2013 1:59 AM

The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers have a chance to live on in NFL lore for a long time.

With one game remaining in what looked like a lost season in September and October, the Steelers have a shot, however faint, at the playoffs. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive lineman Brett Keisel both said it’s “crazy” that they still remain in the hunt. They’re right: it is crazy.

Two months ago, when Pittsburgh was sitting at 2-6, it didn’t look possible. Even with as weak as the AFC has been this season, the Steelers were surely going to shoot themselves in the foot coming down the stretch, I thought.

In early November, I figured by the time the Browns came to town today, the only questions to answer would have been, Would both teams have 10-plus losses, and how many empty seats will there be in the press box?

Instead, the Steelers have gone 5-2 since then to inject some meaning into today’s regular- season finale.

You’ve heard some figures in the past week on how hard it is to start 0-4 in the NFL and recover to have a winning season, let alone make the playoffs.

Here are some numbers to back that up:

• In NFL history, 185 teams have started 0-4 or worse, and only the 1992 San Diego Chargers made the playoffs.

• In more recent history, from 1991 to last season, 81 teams started 0-4 or worse, and only 11 of those teams were even in position to finish at .500 or better entering the final week of the regular season.

• Of those 11 teams, only three were in position to have a winning season and finish above .500 entering the final week of the regular season. Two did it: the 1992 Chargers, who erased an 0-4 start to finish 11-5; and the 2004 Buffalo Bills, who went from 0-4 to finish 9-7, but that wasn’t good enough for the playoffs. (The 2006 Titans started 0-5 and entered their regular-season finale at 8-7 with a chance to have a winning season but they lost and finished 8-8.)

The Steelers can’t have a winning season, but it doesn’t matter. They can join the playoff party with an 8-8 record and a ton of help, as you might know.

They need the Jets to beat the Dolphins; the Bengals to beat the Ravens; and the Chiefs to beat the Chargers to somehow, someway come out on top of the pile that would be five 8-8 teams.

Mediocre? Sure. But by next summer, nobody will remember that the AFC had a down year in 2013. They’ll remember who won the Super Bowl. All the Steelers want is a chance to play for it.

What is it they say? Stranger things have happened?

If the Steelers can somehow sneak into the playoffs, when people say “stranger things have happened,” it’ll be the Steelers they’ll be talking about. At least in Pittsburgh they will.

Mirza Zukic is a sports writer that primarily covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and is the Gazette's track and field beat writer.
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