PITTSBURGH - The second half of the Pittsburgh Steelers season got under way last week, and this is where it gets interesting.
The Steelers are 6-3 with seven games left. If they win four, they probably make the playoffs, but that isn't guaranteed.
If they have one thing going for them this year, it's a favorable schedule.
At this point, only two of the remaining games appear to be genuinely tough. The Steelers play at Baltimore (6-3) on Dec. 5 and meet the New York Jets (7-2) at Heinz Field on Dec. 19.
Today's opponent, Oakland, is the only other team to have a winning record at 5-4.
The Steelers also face Buffalo (1-8), Cincinnati (2-7), Carolina (1-8) and Cleveland (3-6). They should be able to sweep those games, which would take them to 10 victories. But things looked pretty good last year, too, and they managed to lose a home game to Oakland, then turned in an awful prime-time performance at Cleveland.
Coach Mike Tomlin sounded the alarm that the team was about to "unleash hell," but the players apparently didn't get the message.
The Steelers faded and missed the playoffs.
If there's reason to be concerned this year (and there always is in an unpredictable NFL), it breaks down along these lines:
n The offensive line is a mess because of injuries, which will affect both running and passing.
n There is no quality depth at running back.
n The Steelers are 3-2 with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback after going 3-1 without him. He's turned in some ordinary games.
n The secondary has sprung some leaks, allowing a lot of yardage.
It figures to be a bumpy ride to January, a journey that would get a bit easier if the Steelers can beat Oakland today.
Sad to hear the news that former Pirates utility player Ed Kirkpatrick died in California at 66.
Not long after he retired from baseball, Kirkpatrick was involved in a terrible car accident that put him in a coma for more than five months and left him partially paralyzed.
His life was filled with significant health challenges for the last 30 years.
It was a cruel fate for a pleasant, upbeat guy whose versatility helped the Pirates win their division in 1974 and '75. He was one of the unsung heroes of those teams.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His weblog is at altoonamirror.com.