A dramatic afternoon of NFL action

There no doubt will be some conflicting emotions felt by fans throughout the Tri-State Area as the final games of the National Football League’s regular season play out today.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, at one time considered to be among the favorites to earn a spot in February’s Super Bowl, find themselves in a difficult situation. Loses to teams they had been expected to beat, including Denver and Oakland, and a tie with Cleveland on opening day leave them in a precarious position.

Even if the Steelers beat Cincinnati today, they will be left out of the playoffs if Baltimore beats Cleveland.

That’s where fans have some tough choices to make.

Steelers fans are in the unusual situation of having to cheer for the Browns to beat the Ravens. Without that, a Steelers win over Cincinnati today at Heinz Field will be meaningless. It adds a whole new layer to what has traditionally been one of the most bitter rivalries in professional sports.

Browns fans are in an even more difficult spot. They know if their team beats Baltimore, the door would be opened for the hated Steelers to advance to the playoffs. But a Cleveland win that would keep the Ravens out of the playoffs would still be sweet — the Ravens, remember, were the Browns until the late Art Modell moved the team after the 1995 season.

Whatever you think about the NFL, the league has to get credit for waiting until the end of week 16 before setting the starting times for its week 17 games, which close out the regular season. As a result, the Steelers-Bengals and Browns-Ravens games will both start at 4:25 p.m. today, meaning we’ll all be watching the scoreboards.

Even if the Steelers and Ravens both win, Pittsburgh won’t be entirely certain of its fate until 11:30 p.m. or so, at the end of the Indianapolis-Tennessee game. A Steelers win and a tie between the Colts and Titans would give the Steelers the last American Football Conference playoff spot.

It will make for a dramatic afternoon and evening of football in the Tri-State Area and, no doubt, create a lot of interest at the recently opened sports books at Wheeling Island Hotel, Hotel, Casino and Racetrack; Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in New Cumberland; and Rivers Casino, which sits in the shadows of Heinz Field.

And, while you won’t find any predictions here, we will say go Steelers — and we also hope the Browns find a way to beat Baltimore.