The Pittsburgh Steelers bye week could not have come at a better time. Riding high off the momentum from winning a game against Baltimore that they had absolutely zero business winning, the Steelers have the golden opportunity to recalibrate and ameliorate their toothless offense and return some banged-up starters to the fold.
Optimists among us might even look to the next month of games on the calendar and conclude that this stretch looks comparatively tamer than the first five games, in which the Steelers lost to an outrageously talented 49ers team and a better-than-expected Texans team but beat quality Ravens and Browns teams and a better-than-they’re-given-credit-for Raiders team. The Steelers are 3-2 as things stand, so there’s plenty of football to be played, but the next four games—against the Rams, Jaguars, Titans, and Packers—could have profound implications for the remainder of the season.
I found this cool little playoff simulator widget on the New York Times website that allows users to select winners and losers for each of their team’s remaining games to see how the outcomes affect playoff odds. For instance, the Steelers currently have a 42% chance to make the playoffs. If they beat the Rams this Sunday, their odds go up to 52%; if they lose, their odds drop to 39%. Here’s how the Steelers playoff odds shake out based on their overall record over the next four weeks:
- 0-4: 8%
- 1-3: 25%
- 2-2: 45%
- 3-1: 64%
- 4-0: 80%
Lot of variance here, yeah, and this simulator only charts a course to the playoffs; there is no telling what calamities may befall them once they get there. Recall that it wasn’t long ago that the Steelers leapt out to an 11-0 record only to choke it away, limp into the playoffs, and get ruined by Baker Mayfield and the Browns. Was that the Covid year? I think it was. God, that was weird. Chase Claypool scored four touchdowns in a game that year, in an empty stadium. I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren about that.
Anyway, the margins in the NFL are razor thin and there is no such thing as an “easy” portion of the schedule, but it isn’t inaccurate to say that the caliber of team the Steelers will be facing in Week 7-10 is altogether lesser than what they’ve faced to this point in the regular season. This isn’t necessarily to suggest that the Steelers are better than any of these teams—they’re three-point underdogs this weekend in Los Angeles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re two- or three-point home underdogs the week after against Jacksonville. However, this is a stretch of games in which picking up three or more wins is going to be “easier” than picking up three wins against the Bengals, Seahawks, and Ravens in consecutive weeks. Take care of business now and create some padding for later on.
TL;DR: If the Steelers win more games their odds of going to the playoffs improve. Groundbreaking intel, I know. Shoutout to the New York Times for keeping this simulator handy even after buying The Athletic, shuttering their own sports department, and then laying off staff at The Athletic. Things in the digital media landscape are great.