Fourteen games into the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers still find themselves with a 0.5 game lead in the AFC North. For the first time since 2005, all AFC North teams won in the same week. But the Steelers’ victory eliminated the Bengals and Browns from the race for the division. Looking forward at the match-up’s, how many more victories do the Steelers need in order to secure the AFC North?
Here are the current AFC North standings after Week 15 of the NFL season:
- Pittsburgh 8-5-1
- Baltimore 8-6 (0.5 GB)
- Cleveland 6-7-1 (2 GB)
- Cincinnati 6-8 (2.5 GB)
To close the book on Cincinnati, they were eliminated from playoff contention even though they broke their five-game losing streak. With the Steelers win, they are 2.5 games back with only two games left. With wins by both Indianapolis and Tennessee, the Bengals can’t make up the two games on either of them since they face off in Week 17.
The Cleveland Browns are keeping their slim hopes of the wildcard alive to the best of my calculations, while they barely are eliminated from the division. If they were to win out, they would have also needed the Steelers to lose their final two games. Additionally, the Ravens would have had to tie the Chargers this week. If all these things were to happen, the Browns would be in a three-way tie with the Steelers and Ravens while holding the best record in the division. What eliminated them was Baltimore would get bumped out first in the tiebreakers and the Steelers hold the head-to-head advantage. Instead, Cleveland needs everything to fall their way this week and then pray for a Colts-Titans tie to finish the season. Luckily they are 10-point favorites at home against Cincinnati, so maybe one thing will go in their favor.
As much as Baltimore would love to win the division, they know they need help. But the wildcard is firmly in their control. Even though they are a four-point underdog, a win Saturday night would go a long way. A loss would make things much easier on the Steelers, but would still keep Baltimore in the wild-card race depending on the outcome of the Titans and Colts games. With each of those teams 10.5 point favorites, Baltimore’s season could be on the line in Week 16.
The Steelers hit the road for their most difficult match up on paper of 2018. Currently a seven-point underdog, the Steelers are in unfamiliar territory this late in the season in regards to point spread. In fact, the Steelers have only been underdogs three times in the final two weeks of the season since Ben Roethlisberger joined the team in 2004. Ironically, the Steelers won all three of those games. Hopefully the win over New England can give them the much-needed momentum to finish out the season. If not, a loss on Sunday could drop them as low as two spots out of the wildcard.
For the first time this season, the Steelers enter the week with a chance to clinch the division. The Steelers have a magic number of two with two games remaining, therefore they control their own destiny. With Baltimore playing the night before, the Steelers will know before kickoff how much wiggle room they have left in regards to winning the division.