Jesse James Pittsburgh Steelers
Jesse James #81 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after an 8-yard touchdown reception during the third quarter in the game against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field on November 8, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Through the first nine weeks of the 2018 NFL season, four teams separated themselves from the rest of the league as the top Super Bowl contenders. The Pittsburgh Steelers are making a case to be included in the group after their Week 10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Pittsburgh pummeled Carolina 52-21 Thursday night, improving to 6-2-1 on the season. They certainly looked like a team that can compete with the Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, all of whom have better than 6/1 Super Bowl odds. The Steelers entered the second half of the season ranked fifth with 12/1 championship odds, per OddsShark.

The Panthers are one of the NFC’s best teams with a 6-3 record, and they had no chance against the Steelers’ high-powered offense. It marked Pittsburgh’s fifth straight win, and the team might only be getting better as they head towards the playoffs.

All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell is expected to return to the team in Week 11, making one of the league’s top offenses even more dangerous. James Conner has performed like a Pro Bowler in his absence. The Steelers are averaging 31 points per game on the season, despite having faced Baltimore’s No.2 ranked defense twice.

Even when Pittsburgh was struggling at the beginning of the year, they were still able to move the ball down the field. It’s their improved defense that’s made them look like one of the league’s elite teams over the last month and a half. The Steelers haven’t given up more than 21 points once during their five-game winning streak, and the defense is now a top-10 unit.

It’s been largely assumed that New England and Kansas City will enter the playoffs with the AFC’s top two seeds. Pittsburgh could have a chance to steal one of those byes when they host the Patriots in Week 15.

The Steelers have a fairly easy schedule before facing the Patriots. Three of their next four games are on the road, but they should be favored against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Pittsburgh will also host the Los Angeles Chargers during that stretch.

Pittsburgh has a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals for first place in the AFC North. They’ve beaten each divisional opponent once and easily have the best divisional record among the four teams at 3-1-1.

The Steelers have won at least 10 games in four straight seasons.