Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/28/12
As the playoff picture continues to paint itself, it looks more and more like the Pittsburgh Steelers may not be a part of it. The Steelers have dropped consecutive games to bring their record to 6-5, tied with the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals.  The Steelers now sit three games behind the division-leading Ravens and will face them in Baltimore this Sunday afternoon. And they may have to do so once again without their star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As the Indianapolis Colts continue to win, it seems likely that the Bengals and Steelers will battle for the AFC’s final wild card spot. In the NFC, it’s still anyone’s ballgame. Three NFC teams find them at 6-5, and three more sit at 5-6, all of which are very much in playoff contention.  I predicted the Seahawks would emerge from the NFC, but with their loss last week to Miami, their fate is foggy indeed. With the Redskins surging and the Saints lurking, this NFC playoff race will be fun to watch. The story of the week may be the New England Patriots.  Their 49-19 domination of the New York Jets will have people jumping back on the Patriot bandwagon faster than Rex Ryan can dodge a Tim Tebow question.  The Pats dropped 35 on the Jets in the second quarter on Thanksgiving, proving that New England is playing their best football at the right time of year once again. Remember when the Eagles were 3-1?  And when the Cardinals stood at 4-0?  My, what a long fall it has been.  Lackluster defenses and a combination of Nick Foles and Ryan Lindley have resulted in seven straight losses for both clubs. The bizarre moment of the week came in the first game of week 12, when Lions head coach Jim Schwartz challenged a Justin Forsett 81-yard touchdown run.  The Texans RB was clearly down by contact before he got up and scampered another 72 yards for a score, and Schwartz tossed his red flag despite the fact that the NFL automatically reviews all scoring plays. Schwartz found out the hard way that challenging a play that is automatically reviewed is a big mistake.  Not only was his team hit with a 15-yard penalty, but the play was deemed unreviewable at that point, and the touchdown stood. The Lions went on to lose the game 34-31 in overtime. A terrible rule, but the head coach of all people should know it. After being shown-up by his fellow pint-sized runner for several weeks, Ravens RB Ray Rice did something that Doug Martin can’t say he’s ever done. With the clock running down to the one-minute mark, Baltimore found themselves in a hopeless situation.  Losing 10-13 and facing a 4th-and-29.  Quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back and looked deep, but the Chargers’ coverage held and nobody got open. Flacco then did the only thing he had left: a dumpdown to his star running back. Rice took the short pass and somehow eluded San Diego’s entire team before he lunged between two more defenders and picked up the first down by inches.  Baltimore would kick a field goal to tie it and then win in overtime 16-13. It was the longest fourth down conversion since the Buffalo Bills picked up a 4th-and-34 in 2001. I’m not going to make too much of the Giants’ win over the Packers, as Green Bay has been riddled with injuries over the last few weeks. That said, New York looked good in all phases.  Could the bye week have rejuvenated this team?  Eli Manning and the Giants have patented the late-season run.   Follow me on twitter @ScottPeceny
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