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Steelers Playoff Scenarios: Who the Steelers could play in the AFC Wild Card Round

While the Steelers seed is close to being set, their opponent in the first round could be one of 5 teams.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the 2020 AFC North Champions. By defeating the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Steelers won their division championship which guarantees them one of the top four playoff seeds and a home playoff game.

With one game remaining in Week 16, and all games in Week 17, the Steelers will finish either the 2nd or 3rd position in the American Football Conference. While the Steelers position is very close to being set, their opponent for the Wild Card Round could actually be any one of five teams depending on the final week of the season.

Before diving into the scenarios for the Steelers opponents, let’s take a look at what will determine if the Steelers are the #2 or #3 seed in the AFC.


The Steelers Seed

The Steelers will either finish in the 2nd or 3rd seed in the AFC based on the outcome of the remaining games. The Steelers cannot catch the Kansas City Chiefs for the number one seed, nor can they be caught by either the Tennessee Titans or Indianapolis Colts as the two teams still fighting to win the AFC South. The only team in contention with the Steelers for seeding purposes is the Buffalo Bills. Since the Steelers lost to the Bills in the head-to-head matchup, the Steelers would have to finish one game ahead in order to gain the #2 seed.

Before the Bills Monday night matchup with the New England Patriots, the Steelers are technically the #2 seed for the time being as they have one more victory. If the Bills defeat the Patriots, they will jump back into the #2 seed moving into the final week of the season. If not, the Steelers would hold the advantage as they go into Week 17.

Here are the two exact scenarios for the Steelers to gain the number two seed:

Steelers WIN in Week 17 and Bills LOSE either of their games

Steelers LOSE in Week 17 and Bills LOSE both of their games

With no first-round bye going to the 2nd seed beginning in 2020, both the Steelers and the Bills are probably more interested in their players being at full health going into Wild Card Weekend then they would be in gaining the 2nd seed. Since playing for a specific matchup would be very complicated (as will be explained below), the only advantage coming out of having the 2nd seed would be hosting a Divisional Round game should the team make it past the Wild Card Round. While that home-field advantage would be helpful when the time comes, the greater concern is getting through each round of the postseason.


The Wild Card Seeds

Going into the final week of the 2020 NFL season, there are five teams in the AFC with a record of 10-5 and only four of them can qualify for the playoffs. Even with an extra team making the postseason from each conference, the AFC will have a 10—and possibly 11—win team not qualify. Here are the current standings of those five teams in the AFC entering Week 17.

4. Tennessee Titans

5. Miami Dolphins
6. Baltimore Ravens
7. Cleveland Browns
8. Indianapolis Colts

Currently the Tennessee Titans are in line to win the AFC South as they hold the fourth seed. Obviously, the only team which could move into that seed would be the Indianapolis Colts if they could catch the Titans. In order for Indy to overtake the spot, they would have to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars and have the Tennessee Titans lose to the Houston Texans. Unless both of those things occur, the Tennessee Titans will have the #4 seed.

When it comes to the three Wild Card teams, where they stand now is the order in which they would finish based on tiebreakers. From all the different scenarios I have tested, these tiebreakers do not appear to change based on any other outcomes in Week 17. So the ultimate seeding will come based on where teams stand now. Any team that were to lose in Week 17 gets bumped from their position to 8th spot at the bottom of the list. If multiple of these teams were to lose in Week 17, where they would fall into place is based on where they stand now.

For example, The Miami Dolphins are currently the #5 seed. Should they lose to the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, they would bump it to the bottom of the list in the 8th position. But if any other of these teams were to also lose, they would then fall below the Dolphins and Miami would climb up a spot.

As of Monday, the only team of these five who are not favored to win in Week 17 is the Miami Dolphins. Currently 2-point underdogs in Buffalo, this line could change more in Miami’s favor depending on the outcome of Monday night’s game. For example, the Cleveland Browns are heavily favored at the moment against the Steelers as it is expected teams who have their divisions locked up will likely rest players. Even the Los Angeles Chargers, who are eliminated from playoff contention, are slight favorites in Kansas City based on the expectation of teams resting players.


Likely Scenarios

If the Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots as expected on Monday Night Football, let’s take a quick look at how things could play out.

If all five teams who are 10–5 entering Week 17 manage to win their games, which means the Steelers and Bills would both lose, then the Steelers would face the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card Round. If the Bills were to lose Monday Night, the Steelers would face the Cleveland Browns again in the Wild Card Round, but this time it would be at Heinz Field.

If all teams who are currently favored when their games, which means the Bills win both on Monday night and Week 17 against the Dolphins, then the Steelers would face the Browns.

Breaking down the scenario for how the Steelers could be matched up against each of those five teams, while possible, is quite confusing. When looking at the likely scenarios, it appears the Steelers are most likely to face the Baltimore Ravens or Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Round at a least likely to face the Tennessee Titans.


All of these things will be unfolding on Sunday beginning at 1 PM with the Steelers at Browns, Ravens at Bengals, and Dolphins at Bills and will continue at 4:25 PM with the Titans at Texans and Jaguars at Colts. Stay tuned to BTSC as we will be running an updated playoff matchup article during the games giving the current scenarios as they unfold until the Steelers’ Wild Card opponent is set.