Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
If the regular season ended after Week 14, the Steelers would take on the second place finishers of the AFC South and AFC West - the Indianapolis Colts (at home) and the San Diego Chargers (on the road). Should they stumble over the final three weeks and finish third, they'd host the Tennessee Titans and travel to Oakland.
The NFL schedule follows a pattern each season. Four teams in each of the league's eight divisions play each other twice - home and away - and play two other divisions, one from the same conference and one from the other conference. Those eight games are split into four at home and four on the road.
The remaining two games are assigned by each team's finishing place in the division. Of the remaining two divisions in the conference, each team plays its counterpart in terms of where it finished.
In other words, the Steelers are scheduled to play six games against the AFC North, and four games against the AFC West and the NFC East. Their remaining two games are scheduled against the second-place finishers from the AFC East and the AFC South, because they are not scheduled to play those two divisions in 2012.
Therefore, the Steelers played Tennessee (a Week 6 loss) and the New York Jets (a Week 2 win).
In 2013, the Steelers will play the AFC East and the NFC North.
They are slated for home games against the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins and road games against the New England Patriots and New York Jets. From the NFC North, they'll host the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions while traveling to Green Bay. Their game against the Minnesota Vikings is considered a road game while being played in London.
The remaining two games would be against the same-position finishers of the AFC West (at home) and the AFC South (on the road).
Before the Week 15 games are played, the AFC West and AFC South are pretty much set in their standings. Denver and Houston are runaway winners of the division, and the Chargers and Colts, respectively, have all but locked up second place. The Steelers have a very slim chance of winning the AFC North, and, heading into Week 15, held a tiebreaker over the Bengals for second place in the division.
Should the Steelers fall to third place, they would travel to Oakland (where they lost in Week 3 of this season) and host Tennessee.
The Cleveland Browns aren't mathematically eliminated from leapfrogging the Steelers and Bengals for second place, trailing both teams by two games with three to play.
The Steelers and Bengals face off in Pittsburgh in Week 16, and that game will likely decide not just the schedules of both teams next year, but the final AFC wild card participant.
If the previous season's schedule means anything, the difference in strength of opponent in finishing second and finishing third as it currently sits is seven games. That's a pretty steep dropoff, but it's also not necessarily indicative of where these teams will be in terms of talent next season.
The Colts were 2-14 in 2011, and have already clinched a winning record in 2012 - something neither the Steelers nor the Bengals can boast heading into Week 15.