I know many people think this is a forbidden word with the Steelers currently sitting at 0-3. Add in the statistical probability with teams losing their first three games attaining this goal and it’s even more of a reason for fans to think the word should not be spoken. But the playoffs are anything but out of reach for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Having to dig out of the current whole they’ve been placed, success within the postseason is not something which will be addressed at this time. In a lot of cases, that comes down to how teams are playing when January rolls around. We have no idea what the Steelers will look like by that time. But if they are one of the teams that can get in the dance, you never know how it’s going to work out.
So how do the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers get to the postseason? It’s very clear and simply defined for them: win the AFC North.
I don’t even want the term wildcard discussed at this time in Pittsburgh. It’s all in to win the division or watch the postseason at home. This should be the mentality at this point. Already trailing the Baltimore Ravens by two games and the Cleveland Browns by one, the Steelers have some ground to make up. But what they really need to do is define how the ground will be covered. It is a very clear two-step process that begins in Week 4.
Win divisional games
If the Steelers win their games against the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals, they will have accomplished the first step in winning the AFC North. While going 6-0 would be ideal, it’s still very ambitious at this point. The Steelers must win at least one game against both the Browns and the Ravens while sweeping the Bengals in order to have the best chance of winning the division on their own rather than hoping for some help.
So far there has not been a divisional game played in the AFC North. But Week 4 brings divisional games for every team as Cleveland travels to Baltimore on Sunday and the Steelers host Cincinnati on Monday night. After this week, the team the Steelers need to mimic the most will be much more defined as either the Browns or the Ravens will hold a distinct advantage over the other one by the time the Steelers take the field Monday.
The good news is, either the Browns or the Ravens will lose in Week 4. Unfortunately, this also means one of them is going to get a win on Sunday. So the Steelers have a chance to make up ground on only one team this week. I know the game could end in a tie which would be the most beneficial thing for the Steelers, but the statistical probability of that is not much more than an 0-3 team making the playoffs.
So if the Steelers can win their divisional games, they’ll be in great shape. If they drop both games to either team then they are truly in trouble as the advantage of a tiebreaker is out the window. The Steelers would have to have an entire win more than the other team which is too much to overcome with the start that they’ve had for 2019. But if the Steelers can win both match ups against a team, two victories seems like three because of the tiebreaker.
Win the games the rest of the division wins
If the Steelers manage to go 1-1 against both Baltimore and Cleveland, what will ultimately decide who wins the division is probably going to be their overall record. Since they play 14 of the same 16 games, it’s pretty easy to see where the Steelers could gain or lose ground.
Comparing this process to the 2018 season, where most people feel the Ravens won the division over the Steelers was when they defeated the Los Angeles Chargers and the Steelers did not. If either the Steelers would have beaten the Chargers or if the Ravens would have lost, it would have been the Steelers winning the AFC North and in the playoffs.
Even though the Steelers are 0-3, they have not lost a game to a team either the Ravens or Browns have yet to defeat in 2019. Although this does not necessarily seem significant right now, this is a very important thing. If both the Ravens and Browns also lose to the Patriots, Seahawks, and 49ers, then the Steelers haven’t really lost any ground in the AFC North standings.
These three key games for each team are now very important, so unfortunately Steelers fans will have to root for the Patriots along with the Seahawks and 49ers. In order to be fully prepared, the dates for these games are as follows:
Week 7 @ Seattle
Week 9 vs. New England (Sunday Night Football)
Week 13 vs. San Francisco
Week 5 @ San Francisco (Monday Night Football)
Week 6 vs. Seattle
Week 8 @ New England
Along with Cleveland and Baltimore needing to lose those key games, the Steelers must defeat teams whom either one of them defeat in 2019. So it is now important the Steelers not drop any games to either the Dolphins Cardinals, or Jets as either the Ravens or Browns already have a win over all of these teams.
As for their losses, the Ravens fell to Kansas City who the Steelers do not play in 2019 because each AFC North team only plays one team from the AFC West. The equivalent games are the Steelers traveling to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6 and the Browns traveling to Denver in Week 9.
Additionally, the Browns have already lost to the Tennessee Titans. If the Ravens lose to the Houston Texans at home in Week 11, the Steelers have a chance to take a game advantage on both teams if they can defeat the Colts at Heinz Field in Week 9.
I realize talking about the teams the Steelers need to win against later in the season seems insignificant at this point because the Steelers need to get their first win. What it goes to show is how the key games the Steelers have yet to play in 2019 will determine whether or not they can win the division.
So no, the 2019 season is not over yet, and neither are the hopes of the Steelers making the playoffs. The Steelers just need to right the ship immediately and they can still mostly control their own destiny. And whether or not the Steelers can get things figured out and start winning games is the most important step of all.
The path is clearly defined. The Steelers just need to get on this straight and narrow path while it’s still within their reach.