With only three weeks remaining in the NFL season, the exact way things can play out for teams in playoff contention becomes more clear. While factors such as strength of victory and conference record can still change from week to week, looking at specific matchups for the upcoming slate of games can help in determining what the Pittsburgh Steelers need to do to maintain, or improve, their playoff position.
Here is a rundown of the Steelers current standing in both the AFC North and the American Football Conference as a whole:
AFC North Standings
1. Baltimore Ravens 11-2
2. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-5
3. Cleveland Browns 6-7*
4. Cincinnati Bengals 1-12*
*eliminated from division race
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently the only other team still alive in the AFC North division. Although things would have to align perfectly for Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Ravens can win the division with either one more victory or one loss by the Steelers. If the Ravens were to lose their final three games while the Steelers were victorious in all three, the Steelers would hold the tiebreaker of better divisional record.
AFC Playoff Standings
1. Baltimore Ravens-x 11-2
2. New England Patriots 10-3
3. Kansas City Chiefs-y 9-4
4. Houston Texans 8-5
5. Buffalo Bills 9-4
6. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-5
7. Tennessee Titans 8-5
8. Cleveland Browns 6-7
9. Oakland Raiders 6-7
10. Indianapolis Colts 6-7
x- clinched playoff berth y- clinched division
Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in the six seed in the AFC playoff picture as they are tied with the Tennessee Titans in record but hold the tiebreaker of a better conference record.
In Week 15, if the Pittsburgh Steelers can defeat the Buffalo Bills they will move up into the fifth seed for the playoffs. The Steelers win coupled with the Bills loss will give them identical records in 2019. With the Steelers owning the first tiebreaker of head-to-head matchup, they would be ahead of the Bills in any scenario which involves only the two teams being in a tie. Should a third team enter the mix down the road, the head-to-head tiebreaker would not apply and conference record would come into play.
Should the Steelers not be victorious in Week 15, they can either hold pat at the sixth position or fall to the seventh position based solely on the results of one game. With the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans tied at 8-5 in the AFC South, the winner of their matchup will hold the fourth seed at 9-5 while the loser will drop to 8-6.
Since the Steelers did not play either the Titans or Texans in 2019, the first tiebreaker will be conference record. The Steelers have played one less AFC opponent so far in 2019 than both the Titans and the Texans as they each have a matchup against an NFC South team in Week 16. As for Week 17, the Texans and Titans will face off for the second time with this matchup coming in Houston.
Through 13 games, the Steelers have a conference record of 6-3, which is slightly ahead the Tennessee Titans at 6-4. The Houston Texans have a conference record of 7-3. Should the Steelers come up short in Week 15, they would hold the six seed if the Texans defeat the Titans. But if Tennessee takes down Houston, the Steelers would fall to the seventh seed as Houston has a better conference record.
When it comes to simply making the playoffs, the Steelers main competition will be whichever team places second in the AFC South. Right now the two front runners are the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans as they are both 8-5. With both of their games remaining against each other, either one team is guaranteed to lose two games or each team will lose at least one game. The very best record the second-place finisher in the AFC South could have is 10-6 with an 8–4 conference record. The Steelers would be able to match this scenario with a victory in two of their final three games. When it comes to the tiebreakers of conference record and common opponents, the Houston Texans currently sit better than the Tennessee Titans, therefore it would be a better benefit to the Steelers for the Texans to win the division.
If two teams are tied for the wildcard and they are not in the same division, the following tiebreakers will be applied in this order:
1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.
While head-to-head, conference record, and record against common opponents can be easily calculated, strength of victory is dependent on many different outcomes each week. With so many games going one way or the other, it is useless to determine strength of victory and beyond until heading into Week 17.