Well wouldn’t you know? In spite of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ immensely frustrating loss on Thursday night to the Minnesota Vikings, they have arguably made out little worse for wear, thanks to a series of results from Sunday that played out in their favor.
There were four results in particular relevant to the Steelers, with a pair of Wild Card teams—the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills—both losing in overtime games. The Cleveland Browns also beat the Baltimore Ravens. While that puts the Browns half a game ahead of Pittsburgh, it also keeps the Ravens where they were in relation to the Steelers prior to this week’s games.
Which means that it keep faint hopes of a division title alive. The Steelers are essentially two games behind the Ravens for the AFC North lead, and a game behind both the Bengals and Browns. They still play the Browns and the Ravens again, so if they are able to win out, and they get one more loss apiece from the Ravens and the Bengals, then they can still win the AFC North. If they lose one game against a non-divisional opponent, then obviously they need said divisional opponents to lose one additional game, etc.
Is it probable that this happens? Of course not. Is it even realistic? Even that is highly debatable. It’s certainly not likely that the Steelers end up winning the division. More likely than not, they won’t even be making the playoffs. But it’s still a possibility that is very much in play with four games to play—with their strength of schedule arguably being their biggest roadblock.
Each of the Steelers’ final four opponents currently have winning records, with the Ravens, the Browns, the Tennessee Titans, and the Kansas City Chiefs being the four teams that they still must face, three of whom did actually win their games yesterday, the one loser—the Ravens—having lost to one of the other three winners.
Up next is the Titans, who just shut out the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now, the Jaguars are an awful team; surely the Steelers are better than they are. Yet much credit must be given to Tennessee, who have been resilient as a team through the loss of arguably their most important player, running back Derrick Henry.
Yet their other running backs have picked up the slack, and they’re getting healthier. Wide receiver Julio Jones is back, as is linebacker David Long. We’ll see about Rashaan Evans being back as well, but they will have Zach Cunningham at linebacker, whom they acquired off waivers last week.
Of course, if they can’t beat the Titans, it becomes nearly impossible for them to still win the division unless they get incredibly lucky with outside assistance, which of course they already need. But if we’ve learned anything down the stretch, it’s not there are no great, and certainly no complete teams in the AFC. This thing is open, and anybody can quite realistically lose a game they’re ‘supposed’ to win.