Regardless of the fashion by which the Pittsburgh Steelers came to be defeated by the New England Patriots, the end result is ultimately the same: they have now ceded control for the number one seed in the AFC, which they would have nearly secured for themselves with a win.
The Steelers and Patriots now enter the final two weeks of the season tied with the best record in the conference at 11-3, but should New England win their final two games, they would win the top seed, and own homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, regardless of what any other team does.
In other words, Pittsburgh now needs to get help if they hope to claim that top mark for themselves. Specifically, they would need to count upon either the Bills or the Jets, the latter of whom lost their starting quarterback, to go into Foxboro and hand the defending Super Bowl champions a loss. While the Dolphins were able to beat them in Miami, I don’t like the chances of either of their other division rivals handing Pittsburgh a gift.
Worse still, the Steelers’ grasp upon a bye week has suddenly gotten much more precarious, because the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of just three teams to defeat them this season, now find themselves right behind them with a 10-4 record after blowing out the Texans today.
In order to assure that they at least retain control for the number two seed, Pittsburgh would have to secure victories in their final two games over the Texans in Houston on Christmas and then in the finale against the Browns at home.
While that should be a quite doable task, nothing should be taken for granted, and the unknown severity of the injury to Antonio Brown greatly complicates things. The Texans’ defense, even without J.J. Watt, is certainly no joke, nor is DeAndre Hopkins.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, still have plenty to play for, including a critical game in the final week of the season in Tennessee. The Titans—the only team that Pittsburgh has blown out this year—could really do Pittsburgh a great favor by handing them a loss.
The playoff picture for the Steelers has suddenly become much more murky with tonight’s dagger of a loss, even if it showed how competitive that they can be even against the best of competition, and even while they are understaffed.
Basically, it is now seemingly impossible for the season finale not to mean something for the Steelers, unless I’m missing something. They could still finish anywhere between the first and third seed depending on how the Patriots and Jaguars finish over the final two weeks, so there’s still a lot of meaningful football ahead.