We’re getting pretty far out here; that’s something that I just want to say right off the bat before we dig into this article. There are still six more games for all teams involved that have yet to be played before these types of things count. But I found myself playing with some playoff scenarios last night and came to an unusual realization.
In the event that the Pittsburgh Steelers lose one of their last five games that is not against the New England Patriots, said opponent would then become a rooting interest for them in their five games against teams other than Pittsburgh.
Why? Quite simply because it would cancel out the head-to-head loss that the Steelers have against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Assuming that the Jaguars win out—which is possible, with home games against the Colts, Seahawks, and Texans, and road games in Arizona, San Francisco, and Tennessee—then we could see a three-way tie at 13-3.
And if that happens—again, provided that the Steelers’ one loss is not to the Patriots—then Pittsburgh would win the number one seed in the AFC. Let me explain.
The first tiebreaker is, of course, head-to-head, as it always is. Because the Jaguars and Patriots do not play each other this season, this first procedure goes out the window. One team will have had to either have beaten or lost to the other two teams for this to apply.
So the Steelers losing to the Jaguars would not eliminate them, nor would the Patriots’ hypothetical lose to Pittsburgh eliminate them, which would send us on to the second tiebreaking procedure. That is the best winning percentage within the conference.
This one would be easy if the Steelers’ lose were to the Packers, since they are out of conference. But if the scenario plays out with the Patriots and Jaguars winning out outside of the former’s game against Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh winning out to a conference team that is not Pittsburgh, then all three would finish 10-2 in the AFC.
Then we get to winning percentage in common games, of which there must be at least four. Trouble is, the Steelers and Jaguars have played a ton of common games, Jacksonville losing only one of them. The only game left other than New England that isn’t against a common opponent for the Steelers is tomorrow’s against Green Bay, so any loss to a different team would give them two to common opponents.
According to ESPN’s playoff simulator, only two teams, not all three, need to have played a minimum of four common games with each other in order to be eliminated. If this is accurate, which I cannot say with 100 percent certainty, then the Steelers would eliminate the Patriots, since they also beat the Chiefs, and the Jaguars would eliminate the Steelers. But how could they determine the order in which to apply the elimination procedure? So I’m not certain this can be applied without all three teams sharing common games.
If it doesn’t, then it goes down to strength of victory, which has too many factors to determine yet. But suffice it to say that if the Steelers can afford to lose another game this year, it is this one. In fact, the only help they would need from that point on would be to assure that the Patriots finish with as good a record as the Jaguars.
Of course, chances are the scenario is not going to play out like this. But I would bet I’m not the only person who has considered it.