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Playoff Scenario: What it takes for the Steelers to clinch a playoff spot, the division, and more

There are several milestones the Steelers will be looking to clinch over the remainder of the season, and Week 14 is the best time to kickstart the process.

Washington Football Team v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Who would have thought this offseason that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be in such a great position that the discussion of how things play out for them to clinch a playoff berth would happen as they enter the final quarter of the season? But it’s true! For the last two weeks there was a scenario where the Steelers could clinch a playoff berth, but Week 14 looks to another solid oportunity.

The thing that really comes in to play with many matchups in the NFL and clenching certain positions has to do with tiebreakers. With four games remaining for each team, tiebreakers get very tricky. For example, the Steelers already have a tiebreaker over the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, but they have yet to play the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, so a tiebreaker there is undetermined. Another example is the Steelers currently have the tiebreaker over the Cleveland Browns as they have already defeated them once, but with a game remaining against them this tiebreaker could change. And with teams the Steelers don’t play in 2020, it’s an ever-changing thing based on each week.

Because of these complex things, when we look at some of the magic numbers for the Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to clinching things with the 2020 postseason we will somewhat ignore tiebreakers overall for now, but speak to each of them as they come up. If the Steelers were to finish a game ahead of any of these teams, the tiebreakers would not matter. Therefore, these numbers will reflect what is needed to clinch the spot without the need of a tiebreaker in most cases because it will allow them to clinch this week. Tiebreakers will come much more into focus as fewer games remain.

So where do the Steelers sit right now when it comes to locking up certain things with the 2020 postseason? Here are the numbers of what it would take for certain milestones. Remember, a “magic number” is reduced with a Steelers win or an opponents loss. Owning the tiebreaker would account for another reduction of one assuming it can be finalized at this time and there is not a multi-team tie.


Clinching the AFC North

Since the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have officially been eliminated from the AFC North race, the Steelers have to contend with the Cleveland Browns coming into Week 14.

Cleveland Browns: 3

Once again, the magic number of three is what it would take for the Steelers to finish a game ahead of the Browns. But, if the Steelers win this week and the Browns lose, it would erase the entire number as the Browns would have three losses in the AFC North. So should the Steelers defeat the Buffalo Bills and the Browns fall to the Ravens, the AFC North will be clinched this week. If one of those things does not happen, particularly the Browns loss, it does not necessarily mean the Browns losing the following week would still give the Steelers the tiebreaker. So one Steelers victory and one Browns loss sealing the deal only works week to week at this point, so any future scenario will be covered at a later time if it remains.


Clinching a Playoff Berth

There are still 8 teams who are mathematically capable of catching the Pittsburgh Steelers to at least tie them in record. The Steelers need to stay ahead of 6 of those teams. So a combination of knocking out any two of the teams listed below would clinch a playoff birth.

Baltimore Ravens: 0

One of those eight teams the Steelers must finish ahead of are the Ravens. And stated before, even though they could match the Steelers in the win column, they can’t catch them in the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even if there is a strange multi-team tie, the Steelers would still eliminate the Ravens because of head-to-head matchup as they go through scenarios to decrease the number of teams who would be tied. This obviously doesn’t mean the Ravens can’t make the playoffs, it simply means they can’t finish ahead of the Steelers.

Las Vegas Raiders: 1

The Raiders have the same record as the Baltimore Ravens and would have to run the table with the Steelers losing out in order for them to tie in record. The tiebreakers cannot be established at this time since these teams do not play in 2020. But with the Raiders still having to face two other teams in the next group, all three teams can’t win both games. A Steelers win (or tie) or a Raiders loss (or tie) locks Pittsburgh in the postseason. But there are even more scenarios for the Steelers to clinch this week…

Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins: 2

Although they are a game ahead of the Raiders, if the Dolphins lose or tie in Week 14 the Pittsburgh Steelers have clinched a playoff spot regardless of their outcome. The reason this isn’t the case for the Colts is they play the Raiders this week. The only way the Colts can keep the Steelers out of the postseason is to go 3-1 with that one loss being this week. The Dolphins also play the Raiders later this season. The magic number of 2 would mean the Steelers finish ahead of these teams in the standings unless one of these team wins their division and the Steelers do not.

Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans: 3

The Cleveland scenario has already been explained in the AFC North, and the Steelers have already defeated the Tennessee Titans which takes away another one of these games so their number is 2. Also, the Steelers play the Buffalo Bills in Week 14 so that tiebreaker is yet to be determined. The odds of any of these three teams needing to be the one that the Steelers need to eliminate to make the postseason rather than one from an above category is extremely small. In essence, these teams only factor in when it comes to where they place in the final standings.


Clinching the number one seed

In order for the Steelers to lock up the top seed in the AFC, they will need to have eliminated all previously mentioned teams as well as the one listed below.

Kansas City Chiefs: 4

For now, the Steelers and Chiefs are tied at 11-1 but the Steelers hold the tiebreaker with a better conference record. If both teams win out, the number one seed belongs to the Steelers. Obviously whoever has the better record over the final 4 games will grab the top spot. If both teams finish with the same record but it’s a situation where they both lose games, it will depend on which games they lose. If the loss by the Chiefs is to the New Orleans Saints, then the conference record tiebreaker will be out the window and it will come down to strength of victory. Most importantly for the Steelers, they need to get back to their winning ways in order to stay in the drivers seat.


So there’s a brief rundown of what it would take for the Pittsburgh Steelers to lock up certain positions in regards to the 2020 postseason. As the end of the season draws near, the exact tiebreakers will become much more clear and will be able to be factored even better into the equation. When those tiebreakers go from “most likely” to “definite” and can eliminate a team from catching the Steelers, they make the situation even better.

Just to make sure Steelers’ fans know what it takes to clinch a playoff spot in Week 14, they need only ONE of the following:

Steelers win or tie
Raiders lose or tie
Dolphins lose or tie
Titans lose

If any of these happen on Sunday afternoon, the Steelers could qualify for the postseason before even playing their game Sunday night.