The Steelers (8-6) were hoping to get closer to locking down an AFC wild-card spot in the NFL playoff picture last week. Instead, it was the Bills (10-4) who clinched a playoff berth by going into Pittsburgh and beating them.
The Ravens (12-2) have already put the AFC North out of reach, clinching the division last week. The Patriots (11-3) and the AFC West-champion Chiefs (10-4) are two more guaranteed playoff teams. On Saturday, the Texans clinched the AFC South, earning a playoff spot and leaving just one available in the AFC.
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Thus, the Steelers are staring at the No. 6 seed or staying at home for a second consecutive postseason after an 0-3 start to 2019. Here are the different ways they can maintain their precarious playoff position over the final two weeks of the regular season.
Steelers win out
The Steelers have a game against Le’Veon Bell and the Jets (5-9) on the road in Week 16. They’ll also leave Pittsburgh to play the Ravens in Week 17.
Should the Steelers go 2-0, they would be in the playoffs ahead of the Titans, also 8-6 entering Week 16. The Steelers will finish with a 8-4 conference record in that case. The best the Titans can do is 7-5. A win in Week 16 would also finally knock out the Browns and the Raiders, both 6-8.
The Jets are a team the Steelers should beat, and the Steelers might get a break with the Ravens resting key players if Baltimore locks up the AFC’s top seed in Week 16.
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Steelers go 1-1 and Titans go 1-1 (losing to Texans)
The Steelers and Titans would then be tied at 9-7. In this scenario, the Steelers would have a 7-5 conference record, and the Titans would be 6-6; the Steelers still make the playoffs.
But say the Steelers go 1-1, and the Titans’ 1-1 comes from losing to the Saints but beating the Texans. Then, both the Steelers and Titans would be 7-5 in AFC play. The next tiebreaker is common games. That doesn’t help, because both teams would be 3-2.
It would then come down to strength of victory, where the Titans have the edge, helped by their beating the Chiefs and the Saints while two of the Steelers’ wins came over the Bengals.
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Steelers go 1-1 and Titans go 0-2
The Steelers could split with the Jets and Ravens and still get in this way, finishing 9-7 while the Titans go 8-8. The Titans losing out is a strong possibility, given that the Saints present a tough home game before the road rematch with the Texans.
The Steelers, however, would be in trouble if they go 0-2 while the Titans do the same. That means the conference records would be identical, and the deciding factor would go back to strength of victory, which currently also tilts in Tennessee’s favor.
The bottom line: Anything less than a Steelers two-game winning streak to end the season leaves their playoff chances dicey and out of their control.