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With October here, NFL teams have to turn up

There’s an old saying in baseball that you can’t win a division race in April, but you can sure lose it. The MLB season is, of course, 162 games, a far cry from the 16-game sprint that the NFL employs.

In football, losing a few games isn’t a bad week but a potential playoff death sentence, even if it comes in the relatively warm weather of September. Mathematically, everyone is alive but the historical context tells us that anybody with three or four losses is already cooked.

This weekend, a few teams sitting at 2-2 (or 1-2-1) face the crucible. Win now, or face an incredibly tough road to January. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings are both 1-2-1 and need to start winning immediately or else. The problem? Both teams are facing other franchises in a similar boat.

Minnesota is on the road this weekend taking on the defending-champion Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia has the luxury of playing in the weak NFC East, but also sits at a meager 2-2 after blowing a 14-point lead in the second half to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Eagles have looked like a shadow of the team we saw a year ago, the one that rolled to a 13-3 finish before winning it all for the first time in the Super Bowl era.

As for the Vikings, it’s now or never. Minnesota went to the NFC title game in January only to be blown out on this field, something that spurred general manager Rick Spielman into signing Kirk Cousins for $84 million guaranteed over the next three seasons. Cousins has done his part to this juncture by throwing 10 touchdowns against two interceptions, but it hasn’t been enough with a leaky defense and an oft-injured Dalvin Cook.

Up in Pittsburgh, the Steelers are playing their third home game at Heinz Field, but are still in search of their first win there in 2018. Mike Tomlin’s group will welcome in the Atlanta Falcons, who are even more desperate with a litany of injuries and a 1-3 mark. The Falcons can’t play a lick of defense thanks to Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen all out for the foreseeable future, but the offense can hang 40 points on damn near anybody.

Pittsburgh has to win or face the very real possibility of trailing the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals by 2.5 games each in the AFC North. Should that end up being the case, the Steelers would be looking at a wild card spot over the division crown, a position that the city isn’t used to being put in.

It’s still early, and there are months ahead in this NFL season. Still, holes can be dug that become far too big to escape, and the four aforementioned teams are toeing that line.

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