Believe it or not, but the Pittsburgh Steelers could come out of this game with a loss and still feeling pretty good about their chances of winning the division. They could still come out of this game without feeling sorry for themselves even if their loss comes in conjunction with a Baltimore Ravens victory over the Dolphins, which would sent them to a 7-5 record while the Steelers drop to 6-6.
The actual fact is that this game doesn’t mean anything in terms of deciding the division—or to be more specific, it doesn’t have to. If the Steelers win their final four games, they will win the division—and that includes, of course, the Christmas Day game over the Ravens.
So just in case the Steelers are unable to beat the Giants and the Ravens slip by the Dolphins, don’t start despairing yet, or throwing in the towel. This is, in fact, the least important game left on the schedule. It’s the only game left that’s out of conference. And their final three games are all within the division, including a game apiece against the Browns and Bengals, both of whom are struggling, to say the least.
The Ravens, who still play the Patriots and the Eagles before facing the Steelers, and then finish their season with another game against the Bengals, have already made their bed with the losses that they have put together, many of which have come in games against common opponents.
With losses to the Redskins and the Jets, Baltimore has already lost two games against opponents the Steelers have beaten. The Steelers have yet to lose to any team the Ravens have beaten, though that could come next week against the Bills, whom the Ravens beat in the season opener. Both of them lost to the Cowboys already.
Of course, in this scenario, the Steelers beat the Bills—but the actual fact is that not even that has to happen. If the Ravens manage to lose any of their next three games against the Dolphins, Patriots, and Eagles—all opponents who have beaten the Steelers—then Pittsburgh could lose the next two games, win their final three against each of their division rivals, and take the AFC North with a 9-7 record.
Now, it goes without saying that that puts significantly greater emphasis on the final three games of the season, all within the division, with the greatest emphasis on the game against the Ravens. Nothing could be more obvious. The fact of the matter is that each of the next four games is more significant than the one that came before it, starting with an interconference game, followed by an intraconference game, then intradivision, and finally, against the team they need to beat.
Now, if the Ravens actually manage to lose two of their next three games against the aforementioned opponents, all of whom Pittsburgh lost to, then the Steelers wouldn’t even need to beat Baltimore if they take care of victories in their other four games. There are still many avenues left to the playoffs, and no matter what happens today, the Steelers will still be in control of their own destiny.
Update: It has been pointed out to me that the above information is not accurate. I used ESPN‘s Playoff Machine in order to determine this information, and that is what I based my premise from, but it is still my responsibility for getting the information wrong. Particularly because we know that it has gotten things wrong in the past. You would think they could figure out how to create a reliable playoff simulator, but they can’t.
Bottom line is this: if the Steelers lose today, the fact is that they do not control their own destiny, after the Ravens have already beaten the Dolphins. If Pittsburgh loses to the Giants, they will be put at risk of losing the common games tiebreaker even if they win their remaining four games, including the one against the Ravens. In that event, the Steelers would draw even with the Ravens in the head-to-head and division games tiebreakers, but, by virtue of Baltimore’s loss to the Raiders, a non-common opponent, they could finish the season 9-5 in common games, while the Steelers could at best finish 8-6.