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Playoff Scenario: What it takes for the Steelers to clinch the division and more

The Steelers have officially qualified for the 2020 postseason, but there is still work to be done to put themselves in the best position possible.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

For the first time in three seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers have multiple games remaining where they do not have to worry about qualifying for the postseason. For the last two seasons, Steelers fans were looking at playoff scenarios entering the homestretch only to see the Steelers come up just short. This is no longer the case for 2020. The bigger concern now is playoff positioning and quality of play by the Steelers as they head into the playoffs.

The thing that really comes in to play with many matchups in the NFL and clenching certain positions has to do with tiebreakers. With three games remaining for each team, tiebreakers coming much more clear and are easier to factor in with the remianing games. Some are still complex, but for the ones that aren’t they will be explained in each scenario. 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 with known tiebreakers in most cases. The more complex 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. If a previous unset tiebreaker becomes known, it would account for another reduction of one assuming 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 only have to contend with the Cleveland Browns the rest of the way.

Cleveland Browns: 1

With the Browns falling to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night in what was one of the best NFL games of the 2020 season, the Steelers have locked up the division record tiebreaker as the Browns now have lost three games in the AFC North. If the Steelers and Brown‘s end up with the same record in 2020, the Steelers would win the division regardless of the winner of their Week 17 matchup. Therefore, all it takes is one Steelers win or one Browns loss, regardless of opponent, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the 2020 AFC North champions.


Clinching the number three seed

If the Steelers clinch the AFC North, their final concern is which of the top four playoff spots they would hold. Obviously, the worst they could be seeded is at number four as long as they win the division. The team currently in the number four spot is whichever team wins the AFC South, so the easiest path for the Steelers would need to finish ahead of that division winner.

Tennessee Titans: 1

Since the Steelers have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans, they simply need to have identical records at the end of the season. With the Titans two games behind the Steelers, it would only take one Steelers win or one Titans loss for Pittsburgh to place ahead of them in the standings assuming they win the AFC South.

Indianapolis Colts: 2

If the Indianapolis Colts win the AFC South, things get a little trickier. Since the Steelers have to still play the Colts, that game will ultimately determine the tiebreaker between the two teams. Even if the Steelers lose to the Colts in that game, they could still finish ahead of them with a magic number of two since the tiebreaker is unknown until these teams face off.


Clinching the number two seed

In order to get to the number two seed in the AFC, the Steelers would obviously have to take care of the scenarios listed previously as well as this one.

Buffalo Bills: 3

By falling to the Bills on Sunday night, Buffalo now owns the tiebreaker over the Steelers. Being one game behind in the standings, Pittsburgh must finish one game ahead of Buffalo. By winning out, or a Bills loss for every Steelers loss, the Steelers would hold on to the number two seed.


Clinching the number one seed

In order for the Steelers to move back up to 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+

The Steelers no longer hold their own destiny in the race for the number one seed in the AFC. With Kansas City now a game ahead of Pittsburgh, the magic number is still at four with a bit of an explanation as to why it could be more. Obviously the Chiefs would have to lose at least one game with the Steelers winning all three of theirs as one scenario. The problem is if the one loss sustained by the Chiefs is to the New Orleans Saints, the Steelers would still not hold the tiebreaker of conference record. Therefore, the Chiefs must lose at least one game, and that loss must come to an AFC opponent. In this case, the Steelers really are on the outside looking in at this point of the season when it comes to the number one seed.


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 have become much more clear and are much easier to factor into the equation. Because a number of those tiebreakers have gone from “most likely” to “definite” they can their eliminate a team from catching the Steelers or make it known it takes an extra win to be ahead of a given team.