Rick Zamperin: Pittsburgh Steelers fans should prepare for the worst

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. AP Photo/Butch Dill

I picked them to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are probably not even going to make the playoffs.

Who’da thunk it?

Yes, technically, Pittsburgh (8-6-1) still has a chance of making the NFL’s post-season. But the odds are not in their favour, and you can forget about Katniss Everdeen suiting up for the Steelers in a must-win-and-hope-everything-else-falls-into-place kind of Sunday.

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Vegas oddsmakers had listed Mike Tomlin’s Steelers in the top six or seven teams with a legitimate shot at winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3 in Atlanta, Ga., but what do they know?

Vegas was also hot on the Green Bay Packers (6-8-1), who are out of playoff contention after firing head coach Mike McCarthy, as well as the Philadelphia Eagles (8-7), who must beat Washington and hope Minnesota loses to Chicago in order to get into the playoffs.

Pittsburgh’s path to the playoffs is muddy at best. The Steelers must beat the Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) and have the Baltimore Ravens (9-6) lose to — or tie — the 7-7-1 Cleveland Browns.

Pittsburgh can also get in with a tie against the Bengals and a Baltimore loss to the Brownies. The Ravens — arch enemies of the Steelers — will do everything in their power to prevent that from happening.

The Steelers have another way of gaining entry into the playoff tournament, although it is even more remote. Pitt must beat Cinci and then hope the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts (both 9-6) tie when they meet in the Sunday nighter. The latter is highly unlikely.

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It’s hard to fathom that, at one point this season, Pittsburgh was 7-2-1. If — or, more likely, when — the Steelers miss the playoffs, they will look back at their three consecutive losses to Denver, the L.A. Chargers (a game in which Pittsburgh led 23-7 late in the third quarter) and Oakland and realize that’s when their bubble burst.

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