- 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.


Dallas (minus 6 1/2) at Arizona (Saturday night)

Two defending division winners now mired near the bottom of the standings. Their gift for disappointing seasons: a Christmas night game.

COWBOYS, 27-16

New Orleans (plus 2) at Atlanta (Monday night)

Saving the best for last, the top two teams in the NFC get the Monday night spotlight. Atlanta clinches the division and a bye with a close win.

FALCONS, 23-20

Tennessee (plus 4 1/2) at Kansas City

Chiefs need to keep winning because Chargers don’t figure to slip in the AFC West. Titans have slipped to also-ran status, even with last week’s win.

CHIEFS, 19-13

San Diego (minus 7) at Cincinnati

Bengals blew a good chance for the top overall draft pick with last Sunday’s victory over Cleveland. They’ll make sure they stay in the running until the bitter end …


Indianapolis (minus 2 1/2) at Oakland

This is going to be tougher than many folks think. If Colts can’t stop the run, they’ll be in trouble.

COLTS, 21-20

San Francisco (plus 2) at St. Louis

A Niners win and a Seattle loss ensures a losing record for the division winner. NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

RAMS, 20-17

Seattle (plus 6) at Tampa Bay

A Niners win and a Seattle loss … you already know the rest.


New England (minus 8) at Buffalo

Seems like the last time the Bills won a game in this series was in the old AFL.


Baltimore (minus 3) at Cleveland

A playoff spot awaits Baltimore with a victory. Was last week’s win over New Orleans a look at the real Ravens?

RAVENS, 24-13

Houston (minus 3) at Denver

Who cares, Part I?

TEXANS, 33-31

Detroit (plus 4) at Miami

Who cares, Part II?


Minnesota (OFF) at Philadelphia

Eagles take the NFC East and stay in running for bye with a victory.

EAGLES, 30-10

N.Y. Giants (OFF) at Green Bay

If Aaron Rodgers plays, Packers have serious chance to win and steal wild card from Giants. But that debacle at Meadowlands against Philly will be a strong motivator for New York.

GIANTS, 23-20


Versus spread, 6-7-3 (overall 115-89-13); Straight up, 8-8 (overall 147-76)

Best Bet: 8-7 against spread, 10-5 straight up.

Upset Special: 8-7 against spread, 8-7 straight up.

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