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Playoff scenarios for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday

The Steelers no longer control their own destiny and will need help in Week 17 in order to make the postseason

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

With only one regular-season game remaining in the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the exact way things can play out for teams in playoff contention has become completely clear. With four different games possibly affecting which of the three remaining teams who can claim the last wildcard spot in the AFC, each contest has been moved to a 4:25 PM kickoff. So how exactly can the Steelers qualify for the postseason?

Before diving in, here is a rundown of the Steelers current standings in in the AFC playoff race:

AFC Playoff Standings

1. Baltimore Ravens-z 13-2
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. Tennessee Titans 8-7

7. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-7
8. Oakland Raiders 7-8
9. Indianapolis Colts 7-8

x- clinched playoff berth y- clinched division z- clinched the top seed

Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in the seventh seed in the AFC playoff picture as they are tied with the Tennessee Titans in record but no longer hold the tiebreaker of a better conference record. 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.

With a Steelers’ Win

In Week 17, if the Pittsburgh Steelers can defeat the Baltimore Ravens, they will move in the sixth seed for the playoffs if the Houston Texans defeat the Tennessee Titans. If the Titans were to win, they would remain in the sixth seed regardless of any other outcomes. The Steelers are the only team which could be in a tie with the Titans if they are victorious, and the Titans hold the tiebreaker against the Steelers.

With a Steelers’ Loss

If the Steelers were to lose in Week 17, there is still a scenario in which they could make the playoffs. If the Steelers, Titans, and Colts are the only three teams tied at 8-8, the Steelers would have the advantage in the three-way tiebreaker. If the Oakland Raiders are also in the mix at 8-8, they would most likely hold the tiebreaker in the four-way split and would be the final team in the playoffs. Ironically, the Colts are an important team in the equation, but cannot actually get to the sixth seed in any scenario.

Game-by-game qualifier

In an attempt to simplify the situation, here is a game-by-game breakdown as to who will be in the playoffs based on the outcome of the four games which could factor in to the final seedings. It will start with the least number of games involved and expand out to others based on results.

Titans win: Titans make the playoffs
Titans lose, Steelers win: Steelers make the playoffs
Titans lose, Steelers lose, Colts lose: Titans make the playoffs
Titans lose, Steelers lose, Colts win, Raiders lose: Steelers make the playoffs
Titans lose, Steelers lose, Colts win, Raiders win: Raiders make the playoffs*

*As long as either the Patriots, Chargers, Lions, and Bears win. If not, it would be the Steelers.

Tiebreakers explained

Using the NFL tiebreakers listed below, when more than two teams are tied it becomes very interesting. The Titans have the advantage over the Steelers in a head-to-head tie by going all the way to strength of victory. If the Colts enter the mix, NFL rules state the first step in eliminating a team by only having the higher-seeded team from a division move on. Since the Colts and Titans are both in the AFC South, the Colts have a better divisional record and would eliminate the Titans from a group tiebreaker. Since the Steelers defeated the Colts, they would have the tiebreaker.

If the Oakland Raiders enter into the four team tie-breaking scenario, they also defeated the Colts so the tiebreaker would be between the Raiders and Steelers. With identical records and no head-to-head matchup, both teams have the same conference record and record in common games. The deciding factor between the Steelers and Raiders would be strength of victory where the Raiders will hold the advantage with a single win of either the Patriots, Chargers, Lions, or Bears in Week 17. If all four teams were to lose, the strength of victory would be tied, and the Steelers would have the advantage in the next tiebreaker of strength of schedule.

If the Colts are not a part of the tiebreakers in order to knock out the Titans, Tennessee would be the team to make the playoffs. Since the Titans beat the Raiders in a head-to-head matchup, it would come down to the Steelers and Titans once again which would favor Tennessee as explained previously.

NFL Tiebreakers

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.

Three or More Clubs

Note: If two clubs remain tied after third or other clubs are eliminated, tie breaker reverts to step 1 of applicable two-club format.

1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify Wild-Card participants.
2. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
3. Same as above tiebreaker, starting at Step 2.