A lot can still happen between now and December, the evening date between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots. There are still many things that we do not know as we head into that game, especially as it pertains to who may or may not be participating in the game from a personnel standpoint.
But one thing that we absolutely know for certain is that whoever wins that game will be in sole possession of the first seed in the AFC playoff race, and obviously will be in the driver’s seat to lock that position in for good with just two more games remaining.
The Steelers first have a Sunday night meeting with the Ravens in between, which will be a tough game. It could be a very tough win to pull out, given that they could still be down a couple members of the secondary, a wide receiver, another battling injury, and, in all likelihood, Ryan Shazier.
The Patriots, meanwhile, will be playing on Monday night in Miami, and they will be doing so without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. Still, I would not exactly get my hopes up about them potentially losing that one.
Regardless of the outcome of either of those games, however, the stakes are already set in stone. Whether they both win, or they both lose, or one wins and the other loses, the circumstances will be the same: the winner will be the top seed, with two games left to play.
The worst record that either the Steelers or the Patriots could have heading into the game is 10-3. The best record that any other team in the AFC could possibly have entering that week is 9-4. So it would be impossible for any other team to have as good a record as the winner of the Steelers-Patriots matchup.
Even if the Steelers lose to the Ravens and then beat the Patriots, or the Patriots lose to the Dolphins and then beat the Steelers, the winner of that game will have the head-to-head tiebreaker, and thus the top seed, should they both share a 11-3 record upon the night’s conclusion.
Of course, things could get more complicated after the game. At the moment, both the Titans and Jaguars are only two games back, and could be as few as one game back—or even half a game, should there be a tie.
As I’ve talked about previously, a three-way tie with the Steelers, Patriots, and Jaguars would get complicated. The circumstances have changed since I already wrote about that, but I don’t even want to ponder the implications just now. The Steelers would need to lose two games yet for that to factor in, and the Jaguars still have the Seahawks to play.
The bullet point here is that the Steelers will still control their destiny no matter what happens against the Ravens. And so will the Patriots. If either of them win three of their last four games, with one of the wins being against the other team, they will be the top seed no matter what else happens.