Pittsburgh Steelers fans can’t help themselves when they see the New England Patriots play. Unless it’s so directly in their interests that their opponents lose to help the Steelers, they will almost universally always pull for their defeat. They got what they wanted last night, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But it does mean that they ought to pull for the Houston Texans the rest of the way.
See, the Texans have now kept themselves one game ahead of the pack, at 8-4 maintaining a one-game lead over the Tennessee Titans for the lead in the AFC South. But Houston, should they fall behind in the tiebreakers to the Titans, would be a much more worrisome team in the wildcard standings for Pittsburgh. Let’s delve a bit deeper.
As it’s currently situated, the Texans actually have the best record in the AFC within the conference, at 7-2. There are three other teams currently at 6-2. But the Steelers are not one of them. They already have three conference losses.
The second tiebreaker after head-to-head is conference record, and since the Steelers and Texans don’t play each other, that would be the first they take a look at. The ‘good’ news is that, should Houston start to stumble, it will probably be to an AFC team. Three of their final four games are in-conference.
Assuming the Texans retain the conference tiebreaker, the next one up is games against common opponents, and right now, they hold the advantage there.
Both teams have played the Indianapolis Colts, the Baltimore Ravens, the Los Angeles Chargers, and now the Patriots. They have played the Colts twice, and so are 3-2. The Steelers have losses to the Ravens and Patriots and are 2-2, with a game in Baltimore to round things out. They would need to win that game to draw this third tiebreaker even.
But that would only get them to the third tiebreaker, which won’t do them much good: strength of victory. Following last night’s win over the Patriots, the Texans’ strength of victory is now .469, the third-highest in the AFC among those currently projected to make the postseason. The Steelers have the second-lowest at .321. Houston’s wins have come against teams with a combined 45 wins; the Steelers’ wins have come against teams with a combined 27 wins. Even if we spot them another win over, say, the 9-3 Buffalo Bills, that takes them to 36. I haven’t done the exact calculations but it may already be mathematically impossible for the Steelers to finish the season with the same record as Houston and have a better strength of victory.
Since they already have a game in hand, the more practical solution is to simply root for them. And the best reason of all is because they still play the Titans twice over the final three weeks. If they can lock up the division by knocking out the Titans, the only other team the Steelers are currently tied in record with for the second wildcard spot, they will have done Pittsburgh a great service.
That’s a much more likely outcome than seeing the Titans top the division and the Steelers managing to win tiebreakers over Houston. Especially since they only have one non-conference game left.