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January is a cold, dark and depressing month here in York County.

For the majority of the county's pro football fans, however, this January may be even colder, darker and more depressing than normal.

There's a good reason for that.

This January, the NFL playoffs may be more rumor than fact, at least in these parts.

That's because the area's three most beloved pro football teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles — may very well be left on the sidelines when the postseason begins.

In fact, if the season ended today, none of those three franchises would make the playoffs.

How unusual would that be?

Extremely.

Since the turn of the century, there hasn't been a single season without at least one of the three in the postseason. Since 2000, they've combined for a whopping 29 playoff appearances and four Super Bowl championships.

When the snow falls, the wind whips and the temperatures dip, York countians could always count on the NFL's postseason for plenty of regional interest — and some much-needed distractions from the miserable weather outside their windows.

This January may be different.

The Steelers, Eagles and Ravens are all struggling. Neither has a winning record and all have some serious injury issues.

The outlook looks relatively bleak — but there's still some hope, especially for the Steelers and Eagles.

Steelers: Pittsburgh stands at 4-4 and will be without standout running back Le'Veon Bell for the rest of the season.

The Steelers' chances for an AFC North Division title have all but disappeared. They trail division-leading Cincinnati (7-0) by 3 1/2 games.

The AFC wild-card race, however, is a different story. Right now the AFC wild-card leaders are the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, each at 4-3. Neither is a powerhouse.

The Steelers actually face a pivotal game at home vs. the Raiders on Sunday. After that, only two of the seven teams on Pittsburgh's schedule have winning records. Of course, those two are unbeaten Cincinnati and Denver.

If the Steelers can manage a 5-3 finish, and go 9-7 overall, a wild-card berth is a definite possibility.

That will not be easy, however.

Ben Roethlisberger must play significantly better than he did during's Sunday's loss to the Bengals. Granted, it was his first game back from an injury, but his three-interception performance bordered on dreadful.

And DeAngelo Williams must stay healthy. He's more than a capable replacement for Bell, but if he gets injured, things could get very dicey at running back.

Eagles: The Eagles have stumbled to a 3-4 start.

That's the bad news.

The good news?

They're playing in one of the worst divisions in football and trail the first-place New York Giants (4-4) by just a half game.

A wild-card berth is a near impossibility for Philly, but the division crown is still within reach.

Like the Steelers, the Eagles have a favorable remaining schedule. Only of two of their final nine opponents have winning records — unbeaten New England and AFC West-leading Arizona (6-2).

Again, like the Steelers, Philly has a pivotal contest Sunday, at reeling Dallas, which has lost five straight without quarterback Tony Romo. A victory at Dallas is almost imperative. Win Sunday, follow that with a 5-3 finish for a 9-7 overall mark, and the NFC East title may well belong to Philly.

To do that, Sam Bradford must settle in at quarterback. His 76.4 QB rating is 30th in the NFL. That's just not good enough.

Ravens: Of the three area teams, Baltimore (2-6) has by far the most work to do.

Any hopes for an AFC North championship have long since disappeared, and a wild-card berth is an extreme long shot. In fact, only one team in the AFC (Tennessee, 1-6) has a worse record than Baltimore.

Baltimore's remaining schedule — like the Steelers and Eagles — is not daunting. Just two of the eight teams that the Ravens will play boast winning records — St. Louis (4-3) and Cincinnati.

Still, Baltimore would likely have win seven of those eight games. That's hard to imagine, especially without linebacker Terrell Suggs and wideout Steve Smith, two team leaders who have been lost for the season to injury.

Outlook: The playoffs will not start for two months.

For the Steelers and the Eagles, it's not too late to make a postseason push.

Of course, Pennsylvania's teams must play significantly better during the second half of the season than they did in the first two months.

Otherwise, January promises to be colder, darker and more depressing than usual for York County's pro football fans.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.

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