- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

That painful loss to the Jets must quickly be forgotten by the Steelers. The NFL schedule has provided Pittsburgh with the perfect tonic: a home game against Carolina.

Yes, the Panthers did last weekend what the Steelers couldn’t in winning a game. But it was only the second victory in this lost season for Carolina, and expecting the Panthers to upset Pittsburgh on Thursday night is stretching things.

Had the Steelers beaten New York, they would have sewed up a playoff spot. An hour later, they found out they were in anyway through a series of complicated tiebreakers. They are tied atop the AFC North at 10-4 with Baltimore, but Mike Tomlin’s team holds the tiebreaker. Win out and the Steelers are division champions.

“We’re in a great position. We’ve clinched, which is good, and we can have a first-round bye, which would be huge for this team _ get some guys (healthy) who are banged up and rusty,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “It’s all out there for us, we’ve just got to go take it.”

The playoff bye helps every team, but the Steelers need to look closely at their home record: 4-3. They need to be much better in the postseason at Heinz Field if they do win the division, and three potential playoff opponents _ the Patriots, Jets and Ravens _ all have won in Pittsburgh.

Carolina, a 13-point underdog, isn’t likely to do so. Yet, with Pittsburgh’s offense struggling a bit and the Panthers’ defense decent, especially against the pass, that’s a lot of points to give up.


Washington (plus 6 1/2) at Jacksonville

Jaguars can’t afford another loss or their playoff hopes will disappear. They will welcome Rex Grossman back to the Sunshine State by raining down sacks.


N.Y. Jets (plus 1 1/2) at Chicago

Despite all the road favorites this week, we’ll go with a road underdog that showed lots of moxie in Pittsburgh last weekend and now faces a team already in the playoffs.


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