PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn’t going to have the scoreboards blacked out at Heinz Field on Sunday to keep his players in the dark about its playoff fortunes.
His team understands its plight. A victory over reeling Cleveland in the season finale is only part of the complicated equation it will take for the Steelers (7-8) to make the postseason. Baltimore, Miami and San Diego need to lose, too.
Then again, the fact Tomlin and his players can utter the word “playoffs” with a straight face is a testament to the team’s resilience. Pittsburgh has gone 7-4 since an 0-4 start, including rousing wins over Cincinnati and Green Bay in the last two weeks to turn its postseason chances from impossible to merely improbable.
The odds remain slim. Then again, that’s hardly a change for the Steelers. They’ve been that way for the last three months.
“It feels good to have people talk about us in a positive manner when there’s so many times during the season they counted us out over and over and over again,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
Of course, the surest way for Pittsburgh to miss the playoffs for the second straight year is by fixating on the scoreboard and losing focus on what’s happening on the field. Though the Browns (4-11) have lost six straight, they’re not exactly in “mail it in” mode.
“We’re going to take this season as a learning experience going into next year,” Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon said. “We’re not really sure what’s going to happen with the roster and personnel and things like that. I think we’re in the right spot. We’ve got the right coaching staff and the right mindset to go far from here.”
Even if the Browns won’t be going anywhere but home to pack up the season once the final gun sounds on Sunday. It’s a process the Steelers would like to put off indefinitely, one that will take more than a little help to avoid.
The Steelers have dominated what used to be one of the NFL’s more storied — if not always competitive — rivalries. The Browns have beaten Roethlisberger just once in 17 meetings and are 5-25 against Pittsburgh since the franchise rebooted in 1999.