- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The injury woes continue for the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and the latest ailment is the biggest of them all.
Steelers (10-3) safety Troy Polamalu, who has dealt with a lower-leg injury for several weeks, is not likely to play against the New York Jets (9-4) Sunday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He missed all week of practice.
Pittsburgh's upcoming game with New York will have a lot of playoff implications. The Steelers are close to clinching a postseason berth, a division title and a first-round bye, while the Jets are fighting for a wild card. But playing without Polamalu severely hurts the Steelers' defense, which played lights out in the past month.
Thanks to Polamalu, who leads the team with six interceptions, the Steelers are allowing an average of just nine points per game in their last four. The offense has struggled, but Polamalu has made big plays in that span and Pittsburgh's defense carried the team to a four-game winning streak.
Two people who could replace Polamalu would be Will Allen or Ryan Mundy. Neither player is nearly as dynamic. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would have to simplify the defense if his best player cannot suit up.
Pittsburgh's defense struggled last season without Polamalu, particularly in the fourth quarter with closing out games. With Polamalu sidelined with a knee injury, Pittsburgh failed to defend its Super Bowl title, had a five-game losing streak and finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
With a banged up offensive line and key injuries to defenders like Polamalu and Aaron Smith (triceps), the Steelers could benefit from a first-round bye to get everyone as healthy as possible to make a playoff run.