Despite the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a game that they had no business losing against the New Orleans Saints, the day turned out not to be nearly as bad for their hopes of returning to the playoffs as one might think.
The Steelers entered the day in a five-way tie at 7-4 for the two AFC wildcard spots. Including the Steelers, four of those teams lost. The San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens were two of those teams, and played each other, meaning that one had to win, barring a tie.
Three of those teams were in the AFC North. In addition to the Steelers and Ravens, the Cleveland Browns also entered the game at 7-4, but they dropped their game against the Buffalo Bills—which actually added another team to what is now the 7-5 party.
Also joining the 7-5 party last night was the Kansas City Chiefs, who were beaten handily by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Thus, there are still five teams at 7-5, with the Chargers now ahead of the pack at 8-4, but likely having the most difficult remaining schedule.
With Buffalo’s win, they are technically now slotted in the seventh seed behind the Chiefs, followed by the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns. The Miami Dolphins could become a sixth 7-5 team if they defeat the New York Jets tonight in East Rutherford.
Of course, the AFC North division is still controlled by the Cincinnati Bengals, who managed to take care of their own business and are now 8-3-1, 1.5 games ahead of the rest of the division. The Steelers have two absolutely critical games in December against the Bengals, starting next week and ending with the season finale, that have the potential to decide the fate of the division.
Of course, it goes without saying that the Steelers did not help themselves by losing this game. It’s obvious, but worth saying outright. Pittsburgh should have been able to beat the Saints, but did not, and had they won, they would be in position outright for a wildcard spot and in control of their own destiny.
But with the Ravens, Browns, and Chiefs all losing yesterday, it does significantly soften the blow of the loss, which could have quickly turned into a hole there was no digging out of. Turns out the other teams are equipped with shovels as well, and are working on their own holes, resulting in an even playing field.
As much as it might not feel like it after bearing the brunt of a disheartening loss, the Steelers are still very much in the playoff race, and that is not to be taken lightly considering they’ve failed to reach the postseason for the last two seasons, and have not won a playoff game in three. Pittsburgh took a spill, but their fall was cushioned with some schadenfreude in the misery of their rivals.