The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their bye week as the projected second wildcard seed in the AFC playoff race. When the Oakland Raiders, previously winless, surprised the Kansas City Chiefs, it actually moved Pittsburgh up to the fifth seed.
However, as the games unfolded on Sunday and Monday, just about nothing went right for the Steelers, who were dropped three spots in the seeding and are now currently eighth, two spots out of the playoffs, when factoring in tiebreakers.
The Cincinnati Bengals kept their division lead with a win by advancing to 7-3-1 and boasting the third-best record in the conference. The Cleveland Browns squeaked by late and the Baltimore Ravens cleaned up on Monday night.
With the Ravens’ victory, it forced the Steelers, Browns, and Ravens into a three-way tie, and the Ravens currently hold the tiebreaker. The Ravens lose tiebreakers to both the Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers, however, who are both also 7-4. The AFC North teams are now seeded third, seventh, eighth, and ninth, as a result, with the Steelers eighth.
But there is good news for the Steelers as the season advances. For starters, they control their own destiny as far as winning the division is concerned.
The Steelers still have two games remaining against the division-leading Bengals. They could drop the Bengals to five losses on the season, and that, it goes without saying, would give Pittsburgh the advantage.
There’s also the fact that the Browns and Ravens play in the season finale, meaning they can’t both run the table, and barring at least a pair of ties, it would be impossible for the division lead to end in a two of more than two teams.
And the Steelers hold head-to-head tiebreakers against both the Browns and Ravens in this scenario. The initial tiebreaker is a head-to-head record, but Pittsburgh split with both. The second tiebreaker is division record. The Ravens have already lost three division games, while the Steelers have lost two. Because they lost to the Jets, the Steelers would have a better record in common games played.
Pittsburgh also must play the Chiefs later on this season, so, barring a tie, it would be impossible for both to finish with the same record. Should the Steelers and Chiefs happen to tie, however, the Chiefs would actually receive a higher seed by virtue of a superior strength of victory. Of course, ties are quite rare, and thus unlikely.
In fact, the only one of the four teams in which the Steelers are competing for playoff seeding at 7-4 that would be able to run the table with the same record and advance to a higher seeding would be the Chargers (whom, by the way, the Ravens play on Sunday).
Should the Chargers and Steelers both run the table for the remainder of the season, San Diego would hold the edge in the third tiebreaker among non-divisional opponents, which would be win percentage in common games played.
To summarize, the Steelers have some favorable assets in their back pocket going forward when it comes to potential tiebreakers. In terms of the division, the loss to the Jets gives them one less loss to factor into the common games tiebreaker, since only the Steelers in the AFC North faced the Jets. The NFC loss to the Buccaneers also strengthens their favorability in terms of win percentage amongst conference games. The Steelers currently hold the best AFC win percentage among all non-division leaders at 6-3. Only four other non-division leaders have only three conference losses, and of those four, only two have lost less than five games.
Of course, these factors pertain to a specific scenario that is unlikely to occur in exactly this manner, for both the Steelers and the other contenders. We’ll take a look at the upcoming schedules and likely results for the contending teams tomorrow as we ramp up for the stretch run of a playoff push.