Talking about the chances of the Steelers (6-8) making the playoffs seems silly on the surface, and that’s because it is.
It would be like me handicapping my odds of winning Best New Artist at next year’s Grammys. Having said that, people are still thinking about it and will continue to do so until Pittsburgh is officially eliminated from the dance.
But what has to happen? For example, can the Steelers make the postseason by winning out? No. Furthermore, if I understand the tiebreakers correctly, Pittsburgh, who can finish no better than .500 against divisional foes, won’t even beat out the Ravens (currently 9-5) for second place in the AFC North. Why? Again, if I understand things correctly, under a scenario where the Steelers win out while Baltimore loses out, this would nullify the head-to-head tiebreaker, as well as the one involving record within the division. After that, comes record against common opponents. This would give the Ravens a 5-3 vs. 4-4 edge (again, if I’m understanding things correctly). If I’m wrong, and it comes down to the fourth tiebreaker, record against conference opponents, well, this is where Pittsburgh is really screwed.
The best the Steelers can do in that department is 5-7, while the Ravens can finish no worse than 6-6.
With all of that in mind, even if both Pittsburgh and Baltimore sit at 9-8 on January 8, John Harbaugh’s team would finish higher in the AFC North standings.
What about everyone else outside of the division who is ahead of Pittsburgh, a team that currently sits in 13th place?
The Chargers, 8-6, are the sixth seed and can do no worse in the conference than 6-6. Since these two teams won’t meet in the regular season, that means Pittsburgh would lose the next tiebreaker, which is record within the AFC.
Both the Raiders and Browns are currently ahead of Pittsburgh in the standings, but since all three teams have identical 6-8 marks, and since the Steelers play both down the stretch, a three-game winning streak would dispose of both Las Vegas and Cleveland.
What about the Dolphins, like the Chargers, at 8-6? First of all, they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Pittsburgh by virtue of that 16-10 win in Week 7. But even if the Chargers, Dolphins and Steelers all finish the year at 9-8, thus nullifying the head-to-head tiebreaker (one team has to sweep or be swept by the other teams for the head-to-head tiebreaker to still be valid), Pittsburgh would still lose out based on conference record since the worst Miami can finish is 6-6 in the AFC. (You can replace the Dolphins with either the Pats or Jets under this scenario, and Pittsburgh would still lose a three-way tiebreaker based on conference record.)
What about a three-way tie involving the Steelers, Patriots and Jets? Conference record wouldn’t even come into play there since Pittsburgh lost to the latter two teams and would be eliminated by the head-to-head tiebreaker. (You could also sub in the Dolphins for either the Pats or Jets, and it would be the same deal under this scenario.)
Basically, the Steelers can’t finish in a tie with anyone, not even the 7-8 Jaguars, who are currently 6-4 in the AFC and would win the conference tiebreaker if both teams finished at 9-8.
Simply speaking, the Steelers have to finish at 9-8 and hope to heck that only one of the teams currently ahead of them for the final two seeds—excluding the Raiders and Browns, of course—does the same.
This will require you to root for Aaron Rodgers against Miami (you simply have to do this). This will mean you’ll have to both root for and against Bill Belichick over the final three weeks (just hold your nose and do it).
This meant that you should have been pulling hard for America’s Team in what turned out to be a 40-34 overtime loss at Jacksonville last Sunday (let the Cliff Harris thing go, why don’t you).
Even if both the Chargers and Dolphins lose out to end the season, Pittsburgh could still miss the playoffs if the Patriots (7-7) and Jets (7-8 after losing to the Jags on TNF) finish 2-1. Even if one of those teams finishes at 2-1, the Steelers could still lose out if the Jaguars win out.
If only one team between the Chargers and Dolphins loses out, Pittsburgh would need both the Patriots and Jets to finish at 1-2 in order to get into the dance.
But what if the Jaguars win out under that scenario?
I believe the Steelers would be screwed.
The Jaguars can actually still win the AFC South, which would punt the Titans (7-7) into the wildcard picture. But if they finish at 9-8, they'd essentially swap places with Jacksonville and be ahead of Pittsburgh based on conference record.
Finally, the Steelers are like a person who’s trying to buy a car with four years remaining on their current auto loan and has a credit score of 500.
In other words, it's the longest of shots.
But at least there’s still a shot at 6-8, though, right?