It’s still not time to panic. And, still, the sky isn’t falling yet. The Steelers will grab a playoff spot and even the AFC north Division title if they are able to handle their own business (well, let me second-guess myself: that may be enough reason to panic).
In a competitive AFC, 12 teams are still alive in the playoff hunt. Of them, 5 lost (Patriots, Ravens, Browns, Chiefs and Steelers lost) and 7 won their games (Broncos, Bengals, Colts, Chargers, Dolphins, Bills and Texans).
With the Browns and Ravens losing this week, it was an excellent opportunity for the Steelers to gain some ground in the AFC north & Wild Card battles, but the Steelers weren’t able to handle their own business.
Even without doing something positive, the Steelers still control their own destiny: win out and be AFC north Champions, hosting a playoff game. Thanks to the Chargers (if the Ravens had won, the Steelers wouldn’t be in the driver’s seat for the AFC North crown).
How do the outcomes of this week’s games affect the Playoff picture?
- New England loss, good news for the Steelers. This means the Broncos are still playing for the #1 seed (if the Patriots lose one more than them). If both keep fighting for the #1 seed, it means they’ll try to win every football game without benching or resting their starters. On their schedules there are still games against contenders: Patriots still have to face the Chargers, Dolphins and Bills, while Denver plays the Bills, Chargers and Bengals. And that could play in favor of the Steelers.
- The Chargers win over the Ravens means the Steelers control their way into the AFC north crown. Had the Ravens won the game, the Steelers would have had to win one more game than the Ravens the rest of the way.
- The Kansas City loss puts the Steelers in position to win an eventual head to head tiebreaker with them, in case the Steelers are able to beat them at Heinz Field, 3 weeks from now.
Once again, it’s still too early to elaborate into different scenarios; with 4 weeks still to go, there are still many remaining games between AFC contenders. Current Seeding:
|In The Hunt||W||L||T||Div||Conf|
12 AFC teams remain in contention, with 11 of them holding winning records. A 6 way tie among 7-5 teams currently gives the Dolphins the edge on tiebreaking procedures, but don’t pay too much attention to it right now: there are still a lot of factors involved in determining seeding in case of a multiple way tie at the end of the season for a Wild Card berth.
- Each AFC contender still has, at least, two more games against other AFC contenders.
- A total of 16 games among these teams are still to be played, and that will alter the W-L totals, Division and Conference records in an unpredictable way.
- And, 12 games into the season, every team in contention with a 7-5 or better record still controls its own destiny through, at least, a Wild Card berth. That’s 11 teams approaching their final stretch with the same mentality. After week 14, this magic number could come down to 7 teams controlling their own destiny, and the rest hoping for other results.
Week 14 features 5 games between 10 of the AFC contenders, which means that most probably (ties kept aside) 5 contenders will add a L to their record. Games between two AFC contenders: Steelers at Bengals, Ravens at Dolphins, Colts at Browns, Bills at Broncos, Patriots at Chargers. Meanwhile, the Chiefs visit Arizona while the Texans visit the Jaguars.
Other remaining games between contenders, weeks 15-17:
- Week 15: Dolphins at Patriots, Texans at Colts, Bengals at Browns, Broncos at Chargers
- Week 16: Chiefs at Steelers, Ravens at Texans, Broncos at Bengals
- Week 17: Bengals at Steelers, Browns at Ravens, Chargers at Chiefs, Bills at Patriots
*A full breakdown can be found at the end of this article.
Let’s take another look at each contender’s scenarios:
Patriots (9-3) Remaining schedule: at Chargers (8-4), vs. Dolphins (7-5), at Jets (2-10), vs. Bills (7-5). The Patriots still have the the upper hand in the AFC, but have wasted their margin of error within the Conference. While they still hold the #1 seed, they can’t lose more games than the Broncos, or they’ll end up being #2.
- They can help the Steelers: Patriots still have to face desperate teams looking for a playoff berth in their games against Chargers, Dolphins and Bills, which could pay off for the Steelers chances (assuming the Patriots don’t suffer a huge letdown).
Broncos (9-3) Remaining schedule: vs. Bills (7-5), at Chargers (8-4), at Bengals (8-3-1), vs. Raiders (1-11). They now have a legitimate shot at the #1 seed. For that to happen, they need to win one more game than the Patriots. Most importantly: they are just 1 game ahead of the Chargers, who they face on Week 15. The outcome of the Broncos remaining games will completely alter the playoff picture, particularly their next 3 games against AFC contenders.
- They can help the Steelers by: Beating the Bills and Chargers, in order to drop their records in Wild Card contention, and beating the Bengals, while thinking about the Division Title.
Colts (8-4) Remaining schedule: at Browns (7-5), vs. Texans (6-6), at Cowboys (8-3), at Titans (2-10). They are two games ahead of the Texans for the division title, and two games behind both Patriots and Broncos (while mathematically they are just 1 game behind, they lost to both of them, which means that if they end the season with the same overall record, they’ll lose on tiebreakers due to face-to-face matchups.
They can’t afford to lose to the Browns, because that could potentially mean risking their shot at the Division against the Texans two weeks from now, while still having to play a game against a desperate Cowboys team. So, their next two games appear to be critical, which also benefits the Steelers.
- They can help the Steelers by: Beating the Browns and Texans, who are still in contention for a Wild Card berth.
Bengals (8-3-1) Remaining schedule: vs. Steelers (7-5), at Browns (7-5), vs. Broncos (9-3), at Steelers (7-5). Somehow this team won their last 3 games on the road (Saints, Texans and Bucs) and remains in control of their destiny, if they are able to win out. A huge task considering all of their remaining games are against winning teams who are playing either for their lives (Steelers and Browns), or for a better seeding (Broncos).
Chargers (8-4) Remaining schedule: vs. Patriots (9-3), vs. Broncos (9-3), at 49ers (7-5), at Chiefs (7-5). After a big win at Baltimore, they receive the Patriots and Broncos on consecutive weeks. Hard to imagine they can beat them both on consecutive weeks. If so, they will be in contention for the AFC West Division title their last two weeks. Otherwise, they will get into the mix for a Wild card, which could mean they must beat the 49ers and Chiefs.
Dolphins (7-5) Remaining schedule: vs. Ravens (7-5), at Patriots (9-3), vs. Vikings (5-7), vs. Jets (2-10). Escaped a trap game against the Jets (ask the Steelers), and their next two weeks are critical: games against the Ravens and traveling to New England build up a brutal combo for this team. If they are able to win one of their next two, they could be able to control their destiny to an AFC wild card berth entering week 16.
Chiefs (7-5) Remaining schedule: at Cardinals (9-3), vs. Raiders (1-11), at Steelers (7-5), vs. Chargers (8-4). Two weeks ago, their schedule looked brutal. After losing to the Broncos, their game against the Cardinals seems a lot more manageable than it looked a couple of weeks ago. Still, they have to face the Steelers and Chargers to end the season.
Bills (7-5) Remaining schedule: at Broncos (9-3), vs. Packers (9-3), at Raiders (1-11), at Patriots (9-3). With a win over the Browns, the Bills took a huge step to get into the Playoff conversation again. Their remaining schedule is brutal (Raiders aside). They could easily be either out of contention two weeks from now (if they lose both), or getting pretty hot into a final two week stretch that features a tune-up game against the Raiders just before heading to Foxboro to face their division rivals.
Ravens (7-5) Remaining schedule: at Dolphins (7-5), vs. Jaguars (2-10), at Texans (6-6), vs. Browns (7-5). The Ravens still control their destiny to a Wild Card Berth, but need the Bengals to lose two games and the Steelers to lose one more to be within striking distance to grab the AFC north title. On paper, it seems as if they have only one remaining tough game (this week, against the Dolphins), but could be playing both, Texans and Browns, playing for their lives. Don’t look now, but if somehow the Ravens and Dolphins end up with a tie, both teams could benefit from it in the long run. This could pretty much be their season defining game.
Steelers (7-5) Remaining schedule: at Bengals (8-3-1), at Falcons (5-7), vs. Chiefs (7-5), vs. Bengals (8-3-1). The Steelers are still in control of their own destiny, while winning out will give them the AFC North title. After losing to the Saints, their margin of error became slimmer: losing against the Bengals would put them 3 games behind with 3 to go, which could mean that the Steelers will only be playing for a Wild Card Berth.
- Games against the Falcons (who are playing for a division title, too) and Chiefs (who could, by then, be just one loss away of being eliminated) will not be easy, and if the Steelers want to remain in contention, they need to go on a run.
- Still, 3 more wins could mean a playoff berth for this team at 10-6, but two more loses could mark another playoff-less season for the Steelers, even at 9-7.
- If they are going to lose another game, better make it happen against the Falcons, so their conference record ends 9-3, and that would lead them to win most tiebreaking scenarios against the rest of the AFC contenders.
Browns (7-5) Remaining schedule: vs. Colts (8-4), vs. Bengals (8-3-1), at Panthers (3-8-1), at Ravens (7-5). Changing Quarterback for the 20th time in franchise history (just counting since their return to the NFL in 1999) is a risky bet for them. Playing against 3 teams in contention will not make it an easier task for the Browns. Their next two games are vital for them, and they need to win at least one of them to remain in contention.
Texans (6-6) Remaining schedule: at Jaguars (2-10), at Colts (8-4), vs. Ravens (7-5), vs. Jaguars (2-10). The Texans still can fight for a division title, if the Colts drop another game and the Texans are able to beat them on week 15.
They can help the Steelers chances by beating the Ravens. The ideal scenario would be the Texans getting into that game at 8-6, still alive for a Wild Card game and playing for their lives.
So, who gets in?
With 16 games remaining that involve a total of 12 AFC contenders, its pretty difficult to analyze and predict the possible outcome of each scenario. Most probably, AFC Wild Cards will get in at 10-6, with a strong possibility of a multiple team tie.
For the Steelers, the best case scenario is taking care of their own business and win out. If that doesn’t happen, the Steelers must beat the Bengals at home on season finale, and KC one week before. Record within the division and conference are tiebreaking criteria (which can be found here)
To ease things for the Steelers, Broncos and Patriots must keep fighting for the #1 seed until week 17, while they still face 3 AFC contenders each.
After week 14, both the AFC North and Wild Card competition could become a little bit less complicated.
The rest of the Schedule, week by week, for AFC Contenders after week 14:
Week 15 has 4 games between AFC contenders: Dolphins at Patriots, Texans at Colts, Bengals at Browns, Broncos at Chargers
And 4 teams play against non-AFC contenders: Steelers at Falcons, Raiders at Chiefs, Jaguars at Ravens, Packers at Bills
Week 16 features just 3 games between AFC contenders: Chiefs at Steelers, Ravens at Texans, Broncos at Bengals
And 6 teams play against non-AFC contenders: Chargers at 49ers, Vikings at Dolphins, Browns at Panthers, Patriots at Jets, Bills at Raiders, Colts at Cowboys
Week 17 features 4 games between AFC contenders: Bengals at Steelers, Browns at Ravens, Chargers at Chiefs, Bills at Patriots
And 4 teams play against non-AFC contenders: Colts at Titans, Jaguars at Texans, Jets at Dolphins, Raiders at Broncos