What Are the Steelers’ Playoff Possibilities?

Donnie Druin

When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down, the postseason was a far-fetched idea for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Very rarely do NFL teams suffer such a devastating blow and manage to find themselves playing in the playoffs, let alone a football team that started 0-3 to start the season. 

Yet here we are, with just four weeks left in the regular season, and the Steelers currently cling to the AFC's sixth and final spot with a 7-5 record. 

In order to make the postseason, you must do one of two things:

1. Win your division

2. Have one of two best records outside of divisional winners. 

With the Baltimore Ravens sitting in the AFC's number one seed at 10-2, only a meltdown of epic proportions would cause the Ravens to lose their next four games while Pittsburgh wins out to call themselves AFC North Champions. Thus, the path to the playoffs are more likely through the wildcard. 

The current playoff picture looks like this: 

1. Baltimore Ravens (10-2)

2. New England Patriots (10-2)

3. Houston Texans (8-4) vs 6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)

4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) vs 5. Buffalo Bills (9-3)

Teams that are still in the hunt: Tennessee Titans (7-5), Oakland Raiders (6-6), Indianapolis Colts (6-6), Cleveland Browns (5-7), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), Denver Broncos (4-8), Los Angeles Chargers (4-8), New York Jets (4-8).

Baltimore and New England both share the same record, however with Baltimore's victory over New England earlier this season, the Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker and thus currently hold home-field advantage privileges. 

All division winners host at least one playoff game, as Houston and Kansas City would play host to the two wildcard teams in the first round. 

The two current wildcard teams are Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Bills, sitting at 9-3, figure to hold one of two spots due to their high amount of wins. However, Buffalo has quite the stretch to close their season, with their next three games against Baltimore, Pittsburgh (away) and New England (away). 

As for Pittsburgh, their remaining schedule is as follows: At Arizona Cardinals, vs Buffalo Bills, at New York Jets and at Baltimore Ravens 

While the Steelers don't have the easiest lineup remaining, the playoffs are still a possibility thanks to match-ups with the Cardinals (3-8-1) and Jets (4-8). Of course, the Steelers are just as capable of winning all four remaining games as they are losing them. Pittsburgh also holds the tie-breaker over the Titans due to a greater record within the conference. 

The tiebreakers for two playoff teams are as followed, in order (via NFL.com): 

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in common games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin toss

As for now, the Steelers currently have a 55% chance of making the playoffs per the New York Times. Should Pittsburgh win out, they would finish with a record of 11-5 and would retain one of two wildcard spots. Even if the Steelers drop one game to either Baltimore or Buffalo, the team would still hold a 92% chance of making the postseason. The Steelers control their own destiny the rest of the way. 

However, should the Steelers split at 2-2 with losses to Baltimore and Buffalo, the team's chances of making the postseason drop to 48%. Going 1-3 during that stretch puts Pittsburgh's chances down to under ten percent, and a 0-4 finish to the season would obviously end their playoff hopes. 

With four weeks remaining in the season, the playoff picture should become clearer as the weeks pass by. For now, however, the Steelers will try to control what they can control, and that's focusing on Arizona. 

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