NFL Picks: Steelers stumbing into playoffs
Vail, CO Colorado
The Pittsburgh Steelers are stumbling toward a playoff spot they thought all season would be easy to get. Given their poor road record and the St. Louis Rams’ second-half resurgence from a winless half-season, they have some reason to worry.
They might have trouble Thursday night against the 3-11 Rams in one of those NFL Network games most of the nation won’t be able to see.
“We have too much talent in this locker room to be losing games,” says Steven Jackson, the St. Louis running back whose absence with a groin injury is one reason the Rams started 0-8.
St. Louis has stayed close for at least a half against such playoff teams as Tampa Bay, Dallas, San Diego and Green Bay before wearing down after intermission.
A complete second-half fizzle is what the Steelers want to avoid as they try to wrap up the AFC North title ” or at least a wild-card playoff spot. They’ve lost three of five, the most inexplicable a road defeat to the New York Jets, who like the Rams have won just three games this season.
The Steelers, who have to win twice on the road to ensure the division title, are just 2-4 away from Heinz field, but are favored by 7 1/2 in St. Louis. Even if they lose this game, they can make the playoffs by winning their finale in Baltimore, although the division title might go to Cleveland.
“We don’t have time to think about all of that,” linebacker Larry Foote says. “We just have to win Thursday, get in the tournament. Who cares about momentum or whatever? You just have to get in the tournament.”
The guess is that they’ll get in the tournament this week. Maybe the Rams will stay in the game for a half, but …
Washington (plus 6 1/2) at Minnesota (Sunday night)
Second straight elimination game for the Redskins. Vikings are due to lose …
Dallas (minus 10 1/2) at Carolina (Saturday night)
Tony Romo’s thumb is said to be OK. How could Dallas lose last week to Philly? The Cowboys are not just the best team in the NFC, they ARE the NFC after folks decided to vote 11 of their guys to the Pro Bowl.
New York Giants (minus 3) at Buffalo
Long-range forecast is rain or snow.
Cleveland (minus 3) at Cincinnati
Browns’ march toward playoffs started with 51-45 win over Bengals. Harder to score in December.
Green Bay (minus 9) at Chicago
If the Bears thought Kyle Orton might be their future, they learned otherwise in Minnesota.
Denver (plus 8 1/2) at San Diego (Monday night)
The Broncos lost 41-3 to the Chargers at home. They’ll play for a little pride here.
Houston (plus 7) at Indianapolis
Tony Dungy says the Colts want to maintain momentum. But they sometimes take it easy with everything clinched.
Miami (plus 21 1/2) at New England
The Dolphins will NOT win two in a row.
Kansas City (plus 4 1/2) at Detroit
The Lions have been trying since Nov. 11 to get to their seventh win, which would break the Millen-era record. Finally?
Oakland (plus 13) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars are a fashionable team going into the playoffs even though the voters who so honored Dallas found none of them worthy of a Pro Bowl spot.
Philadelphia (plus 3) at New Orleans
The Eagles may be better than the Saints.
New York Jets (plus 8 1/2) at Tennessee
The Jets have been a troublesome team for contenders, including New England last week.
Baltimore (off) at Seattle
The Ravens go for nine straight ” losses.
Tampa Bay (minus 7) at San Francisco
Older guys like Barber, Brooks, Kelly and maybe Garcia might rest a bit.
Atlanta (plus 10 1/2) at Arizona
If the Cardinals finish 8-8, it would be their best record in nine years. That’s incentive.
LAST WEEK: 8-8 (spread); 9-7 (straight up)
SEASON: 110-106-8 (spread); 144-80 (straight up)