With only two weeks remaining in the NFL season, the exact way things can play out for teams in playoff contention is becoming 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 standings in in the AFC playoff race:
AFC Playoff Standings
1. Baltimore Ravens-y 12-2
2. New England Patriots-y 12-3
3. Kansas City Chiefs-y 10-4
4. Houston Texans-y 10-5
5. Buffalo Bills-x 10-5
6. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-6
7. Tennessee Titans 8-6
8. Cleveland Browns 6-8
9. Oakland Raiders 6-8
10. Indianapolis Colts 6-8
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. With the Steelers falling to the Buffalo Bills in Week 15, they can finish no higher than sixth in the conference standings.
In Week 16, if the Pittsburgh Steelers can defeat the New York Jets, they will remain in the sixth seed for the playoffs regardless of other outcomes. The Steelers are 100% in control of their own destiny as long as they win their games the remainder of the season.
If the Steelers were to lose in Week 16, they would fall to seventh regardless of the result of the Tennessee Titans hosting the New Orleans Saints. If the Titans were to beat the Saints, they would have a better record than the Steelers. If both teams were to lose, the tiebreaker would go even further down the list.
Since the Steelers and Titans did not play in 2019, conference record would be the next tiebreaker. By losing in Week 16, the Steelers would no longer have the tiebreaker over the Titans as they would both have the same conference record. Through 14 games, the Steelers have a conference record of 6-4, which is slightly ahead the Tennessee Titans at 6-5. If the Steelers would fall to the Jets, they would have an identical conference record with the Titans. With the record against common opponents (Browns, Colts, Bills, and Chargers) also being the same at 3-2, the Steelers would come up short in the “strength of victory” department as the win totals of the teams they each defeated is currently highly favoring the Titans (50 wins to 34.5 wins).
When it comes to simply making the playoffs, the Steelers main competition will be the Tennessee Titans. The Houston Texans clinched the AFC South with their win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday. With the Texans having the tiebreaker over the Kansas City Chiefs, any loss by the Chiefs either against the Bears in Week 16 or the Chargers in Week 17 would allow the Texans to move up to the three seed. For this reason, the Texans may feel the need to play most of their players in order to improve their playoff standing.
If the Steelers fall in either one of their final games, they will need the Titans to lose to the Texans regardless of the result against the Saints. There is a scenario where the Steelers could make the playoffs losing both of their final games, but it would involve six other games going correctly over the final two weeks.
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. While many results come into play, it can still be estimated to see which way the tiebreaker would fall.