The division race is sure emerging as an interesting one down the stretch. I’m not talking about the AFC North, of course. The Baltimore Ravens have that all but locked up. All they need is to win one of their final three games or for the Pittsburgh Steelers to lose one of their final three, and that will be enough to get the job done.
No, the chances of the Steelers claiming the AFC North in 2019 are fast approaching zero. But their chances of reaching the postseason are pretty high now. I believe some statistical analysis or another had them somewhere around 75 percent if they won yesterday’s game.
And now the race in the AFC South is shaping up to have an interesting effect on the Wildcard seeding. With the Tennessee Titans beating the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans losing to the Denver Broncos, the two top teams in the division are now 8-5, tied atop the standings—the same record as the Steelers—and they still play each other twice over the course of the final three weeks.
That is good news for Pittsburgh, because that means that, barring some ties, either one of them will be guaranteed to have two more losses, with the other comfortably winning the division and thus not their concern, or both will lose a game.
Given that the Steelers still have some significant games ahead, that’s a big deal. Up next is their final home game against the 9-4 Buffalo Bills. With a win over Buffalo, Pittsburgh would even take control of the number five seed, since they would share the Bills’ record while also owning the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Here’s the problem, though. If the Steelers lose, and the Titans beat the Texans next week, Pittsburgh will fall to the seventh seed, because Houston would have the better conference record. If they end up tying that down the line (they would both have the same number of losses), Houston would have the advantage in strength of victory as well.
So Pittsburgh still has every reason to go all out to try to win every game going forward. If they lose, they should be rooting for the Texans, because the Titans have more conference losses, and thus would lose tiebreakers to the Steelers.
It might be most prudent to root for a sweep by one team or the other, which would give Pittsburgh the most cushion possible. The winner of the season series would be safely ensconced as the division winner, while the other one would have at least seven losses, and at least five conference losses.
So while the Steelers control their own fate, even for the number five seed, monitoring the matchup between the Texans and Titans will be important as well. They don’t need the help now, but as we saw last season, they could, and when they’ve needed help in recent years, they haven’t gotten it.