What's next for reeling Steelers?

Steel City wake-up: morning links

The playoffs are all but out of reach for the Steelers even if they somehow discover a winning formula in the second half of the season and string a bunch of victories together. What has turned into a lost season following back-to-back losses at Oakland and New England has also shifted the focus to a very uncertain future for a franchise that has long been a model of stability.

The limitations of a 53-man roster don’t leave coach Mike Tomlin a lot of options as he tries to get the Steelers’ season untracked but there will be plenty of changes in the offseason. Is it possible that strong safety Troy Polamalu is playing his final season for the Steelers and in the NFL? Polamalu is due to make $8.5 million next season, and he may have to take a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh. Free safety Ryan Clark is in the final year of his contract, and he is among a handful of veterans unlikely to return in 2014.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s future is also uncertain as his unit continues to struggle. LeBeau, 76, could well retire after the season, secure in all that he has accomplished during a Hall of Fame playing and coaching career.

No levers that LeBeau pulled in New England seemed to work in the Steelers’ 55-31 loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots. The defense’s startling slide continued in a big way. It could get exactly what it needs Sunday when the Buffalo Bills visit Heinz Field. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, the Bills’ first-round draft pick last April, has been cleared to return from a knee injury.

Bills coach Doug Marrone is taking a wait-and-see approach with Manuel. Whoever plays quarterback against the Steelers will face an angry defense looking for a measure of redemption.