Let's take a closer look at what would need to transpire for the Steelers to even be in the playoff discussion heading into the final week of the season. The tie-breaker procedures for Wild Card berths are quite complicated, especially if there are three or more teams involved. So, we'll delve into all of the tie-breaking nuiances at a later date. For now, let's take a look at what needs to happen for that to even be relevant.
Obviously, the first order of business is winning out. The Steelers' final three games are against playoff caliber teams: @ Carolina, vs. Baltimore, and vs. Cincinnati. The Panthers thankfully are in disarray. No word yet whether Jake Delhomme will start this Sunday for Carolina, but if he doesn't our chances of winning go up exponentially. Did you know that Chris Weinke has the lowest winning percentage in NFL history for QBs who have started at least 16 games in their career? Weinke bolstered his position this past Sunday as one of the worst quarterbacking options in NFL history with a 3 INT home performance against the NY Giants. John Fox, who I thought was one of the better coaches in the league heading into this season, has to be on the hot-seat for how mightily his team has underachieved.
Anyway, the Steelers must win their final three games for us to even have a shot. Let's assume we do and finish the season 9-7.
- The Jets final three games: @ Minnesota, @ Miami, vs. Oakland. Hopefully the Jets will lose 2-of-3, and won't even be in the discussion. But, let's assume they do win 2-of-3 and finish 9-7. Obviously all three of these games are winnable, but let's face it, the Jets have overachieved all year and simply don't have the talent to expect to win 3 games in December, two of which are on the road. We'll get into how we matchup with the Jets in a possible tie-breaker in a bit...
- Jacksonville's final 3 games: @ TN, vs. NE, @ KC. Man, Jacksonville is hard to pin down, so making any sort of predicion on how they'll finish is somewhat foolish. They could lose all three of those games; they could also win all 3. As I'll show later, we aren't in great shape tie-breaker wise, so we need Jacksonville to lose at least 2-of-3. Cheer hard for Tennessee this weekend and then hope New England figures things out before their meeting in Week 16.
- Denver's final three games: @ AZ, vs. Cincinnati, vs. SF. As poorly as the Broncos are playing, they should win at least 2-of-3. The Steelers desperately need Denver to lose 2-of-3 however, because of their superior conference record. Even if the Broncos were to finish just 9-7, their conference record would be 7-5 (and that's assuming their 1 loss came against the AFC Bengals. So, if we are to make the playoffs, Denver has to lose 2 of their final 3 games . Ugh, that means we have to cheer for the Bengals when they play the Broncos in two weeks, AND hope either Arizona and/or San Francisco can take down Denver. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility, but still an undeniable longshot.
- Kansas City's final 3 games: @ San Diego, @ Oakland, vs. Jacksonville. If Kansas City were to finish 9-7, we would beat them in both head-to-head tiebreakers, and in a 3-team tiebreaker due to a better conference record. So, all we need is for the Chargers to beat the Chiefs and they're out of our way.
- Cincinnati's final three games: @ IND, @ Denver, vs. Pittsburgh. First of all, we need Indianapolis to beat Cincinnati this weekend. Fortunately the Colts still have lots to play for and improve upon, so expect their best effor this Sunday. Now, remember we need the Bengals to beat Denver in Week 16. If that were to happen, the Bengals and Steelers could face off in Week 17 with a possible playoff berth on the line. I've looked at all the tie-breaker procedures (it was late last night and I need to do it again more carefully), and I THINK that it would go all the way down to the 'Strength of Victory' tie-breaker, which is the 5th tiebreaker used. Right now the Bengals have a higher strength of victory score, but that could change if the Steelers beat the Panthers, Ravens, and Bengals in the final three weeks.
- Denver Broncos final three games: @ Arizona, vs. Cincinnati, vs. San Francisco. Plain and simple: we need Denver to lose 2-of-3. If the Broncos were anywhere near as good as they have been in year's past, I'd say 'fat chance', but this Broncos team is playing poorly enough for it to possibly happen, especially with Arizona finally playing some decent football. The Broncos have a superior conference record and have beaten us head-to-head, so 9-7 would knock us out. They have to lose twice more.
New York Jets 9-7 (6-6 AFC record)*
Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7 (6-6 AFC record)
Cincinnati Bengals 9-7 (7-5 AFC record)
Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7 (6-6 AFC record)
*The Jets must lose one of their final 3 games, and it must come against either Oakland or Miami . If their lone loss comes to Minnesota, they would have a 7-5 conference record and jump ahead of us.
So, can we all agree that the scenarios I've touched upon are not all that unlikely?? Obviously the biggest obstacle is winning all our football games, and by no means will that be an easy task. But, if we were to win out, we very well may find ourselves in a 3 or 4 way tie at 9-7. If that were to happen, it would be on to the tiebreakers. Let's chew on this for a bit, before I get to how those tiebreakers would play out.