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AFC Playoff Picture: Loss to Patriots puts Steelers in precarious situation

The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt a huge blow in the AFC Playoff Picture, and it’s time to figure what the road ahead looks like.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots squared off for the top seed in the AFC Playoff Picture and, despite a very controversial finish, the playoff picture is getting narrow after Week 15.

Before digging into potential matchups, let’s update the AFC rankings:

1. New England Patriots - 11-3 - Remaining Games: vs. Bills (8-6), vs. Jets (5-8)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers - 11-3 - Remaining Games: at Texans (4-10), vs. Browns (0-14)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - 10-4 - Remaining Games: at 49ers (4-10), at Titans (8-6)
4. Kansas City Chiefs - 8-6 - Remaining Games: vs. Dolphins (6-8), at Broncos (5-9)
5. Tennessee Titans - 8-6 - Remaining Games: vs. Rams (10-4), vs. Jaguars (10-4)
6. Buffalo Bills - 8-6 - Remaining Games: at Patriots (11-3), at Dolphins (6-8)

In the hunt:
7. Baltimore Ravens - 8-6 - Remaining Games: vs. Colts (3-11), vs. Bengals (5-9)
8. Los Angeles Chargers - 7-7 - Remaining Games: at Jets (5-8), vs. Raiders (6-7)

So, if the playoffs were to start today, here would be the matchups:

AFC Wild Card Weekend:

3. Jacksonville would host 6. Buffalo

4. Kansas City would host 5. Tennessee

AFC Divisional Round:

New England would host the lowest seed

Pittsburgh would host the highest seed

For those wondering how the Steelers could lock up a first-round bye, it can happen in a variety of ways, all include the Steelers winning their final two games. If they beat the Texans and Browns, nothing else matters. However, if the Jaguars slip up against the 49ers or Titans, both on the road, the Steelers would get a first-round bye considering there are only two weeks left in the regular season.

A lot changed in the final 50-seconds of the Steelers vs. Patriots game, and the final result totally altered the playoff picture but, with Pittsburgh’s injuries mounting, the first-round bye certainly is enticing.

There’s still a lot of football left, and a lot can change between now and Week 17. But it’s comforting to know the Steelers have already clinched a playoff spot and they’re close to having a first-round bye for the first time since 2010.