A Look at the AFC Wildcard Race: What a Victory Over the Steelers Would Do

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been fortunate that for the past several years, they've basically received a two-game handicap on all of the other teams in the NFL. The Steelers could've been a .500 team at 8-8 in other divisions in the past, but the Browns have allowed their record to swing up to something like 10-6 instead.

It's Week 14, and the Steelers are 6-6 after having lost four straight games. Their playoff hopes are on thin ice, but they always seem to pull something off at the last second. Their "last-ditch run" begins tonight against the Cleveland Browns. Let's take a look at why the Browns could immediately put a dagger in that last-ditch run before it ever even gets started.

AFC Playoff Seeds

  1. Indianapolis Colts (12-0)
  2. San Diego Chargers (9-3)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-3)
  4. New England Patriots (7-5)
    ---------------------------------------
  5. Denver Broncos (8-4)
  6. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5)

Still In the Hunt

Scenario

Let's assume that the Browns knock off the Steelers this week. Then, here are the other things to consider, knowing that the Steelers would be 6-7:

  • Denver has a tough match against the Colts this week, but after that, two of their final three games are at home against the Raiders and the Chiefs. If those are wins, the Broncos, at worst, would finish 10-6, which would be out of reach of the Steelers. However, if the Steelers and Broncos finish in a tie, the Steelers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them.
  • The Jaguars play the Dolphins this week, and it'd probably be better if the Jaguars won. Jacksonville faces the Browns in Week 17, but have the Colts and Patriots before that. If they finish the season at 2-2 for a total record of 9-7, Pittsburgh would have to go 3-0 in their final three games to match them. Matching their record wouldn't be good enough, since Jacksonville would hold a better conference record.
  • Let's say the Dolphins win instead of Jacksonville this week. Miami has a tough/not-so-tough schedule coming up, depending on how tough you consider the below .500 Titans and Texans. If the Dolphins win one of those two games, they would have an 8-7 record heading into their Week 17 match against the Steelers. Pittsburgh would have to beat Green Bay and Baltimore just to have a shot at the head-to-head determining Week 17 game against Miami.
  • The Ravens play Detroit, Chicago, and Oakland. Even with their struggles, those are three relatively "easy games" that could put the Ravens in prime position to capture a wildcard spot. If the Steelers beat Baltimore in Week 16 to both finish 9-7, it wouldn't matter -- Baltimore's division record would be 3-3, while Pittsburgh's would be 2-4 (assuming a loss to Cleveland).
  • The Titans and Texans still have a shot, especially Tennessee with games against St. Louis, Seattle, and wildcard-contending Miami. A 3-1 finish would put them at 8-8 only though, and with a team like Pittsburgh beating them in Week 1, they are still a long shot.

If the Steelers win tonight, their path to the playoffs becomes easier. Instead of the other teams having the chips in their favor, it would almost be the Steelers' season to lose as equally as it would be the Ravens' season to lose. Odds are in favor of Pittsburgh winning tonight, but I felt like going through the evil, diabolical scenarios of ending the Steelers' playoff hopes nonetheless.

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