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AFC Playoff Picture: Steelers road to postseason becomes more narrow

While the Steelers wait to play in Week 16, the majority of the AFC field is already moving on to Week 17. We update the AFC Playoff Picture.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers only chance to make the postseason was to win the AFC North. Suddenly, a few weeks later, there was a very real chance Pittsburgh could get into the playoffs as both the division champions, as well as possibly snagging a wild card spot if the AFC North went to the Baltimore Ravens.

Here we are on Christmas Day, where the Steelers and Ravens will face off at Heinz Field, and although winning the AFC North, and the No. 3 seed in the process, is still the easiest, and preferred way, to get to the postseason party, the odds of claiming a wild card spot are dwindling.

With a 9-5 record, the two teams who are currently in the wild card positions are the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) and the Miami Dolphins (10-5). If the Steelers were to lose to the Ravens in Week 16, all wouldn’t be lost, but it would certainly become a scoreboard watching scenario in Week 17.

A lot of this scenario still depends on the outcome of the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium tonight, but let’s update the AFC Playoff Picture after most teams have completed Week 16.

AFC Playoff Picture

1. New England Patriots - 13-2 - Remaining Game: at Dolphins (10-5)
2. Oakland Raiders - 12-3 - Remaining Game: at Broncos (8-6)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers - 9-5 - Remaining Games: vs. Ravens (8-6), vs. Browns (1-14)
6. Miami Dolphins - 10-5 - Remaining Game: vs. Patriots (13-2)

4. Houston Texans - 9-6 - Remaining Game: at Titans (8-7)
5. Kansas City Chiefs - 10-4 - Remaining Games: vs. Broncos (8-6), at Chargers (5-9)

In the hunt:

7. Baltimore Ravens - 8-6 - Remaining Games: at Steelers (9-5), at Bengals (5-9-1)
8. Denver Broncos - 8-6 - Remaining Games: at Chiefs (10-4), vs. Raiders (12-3)

The fact remains, for the Steelers, winning on Sunday and clinching the AFC North and the No. 3 seed will be the easiest way to get a second life in the playoffs. However, the chances of possibly claiming a wild card spot if the AFC North goes to Baltimore are dwindling.

The Steelers would have to hope the Dolphins lose in Week 17, or the Broncos somehow win the rest of their games to create a 3-way tie for the 6th seed. The reason for this is the Steelers would lose a head-to-head tie with the Dolphins, but when three teams are tied the head-to-head tie breakers is thrown out and goes to like opponents, etc.

Pittsburgh’s playoff scenario can be ridiculously simple — win Sunday and you are in — or unbelievably complex — lose on Sunday and hope for help. It should be noted the Steelers could still win the AFC North, even if they lose in Week 16, but they would be relying on the Bengals to beat the Ravens in Week 17, assuming the Steelers beat the Browns at Heinz Field.

For the sake of Steelers Nation, let’s hope the home team is victorious in Week 16.