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The Pittsburgh Steelers really do control their own destiny in the AFC North

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Every year at this time, it seems the phrase "We control our own destiny" gets used by NFL players and coaches when discussing their teams' playoff possibilities. But as they head into the last four games of the 2014 regular season, it's actually true for the Steelers in the AFC North.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

That pesky tie the Bengals have on their record, thanks to a 37-37 finish against Carolina in Week 6, is just sitting there like an annoying tear in the seat of your pants, and you're just waiting for it to rip even more and ruin your day.

But the one good thing about Cincinnati's tie is that it guarantees there will be no three-way finish in the AFC North standings (unless there's another tie, of course). And this is good news for the Steelers if they can somehow find the consistency that has eluded them for the better part of three years and actually win their remaining four games to finish out the 2014 regular season.

If that happens (and if I've studied the NFL's divisional tie-breaking procedures as well as I think), Pittsburgh, standing at 7-5 heading into a crucial Week 14 road matchup at Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday, will be AFC North champions for the first time in four seasons. Mark it down. It's a guarantee.

How? It's simple.

Obviously, pertaining to the Bengals (currently 8-3-1), if Pittsburgh defeats them twice and wins its other two games to go 11-5, the best Cincinnati can do is finish 10-5-1. That's the simple math right there.

But there's a chance that either Baltimore (7-5) or Cleveland (7-5) will also win-out and finish at 11-5, just like the Steelers. What happens then?

As for those hated Ravens, even if they also win-out and join Pittsburgh at 11-5, they would lose the tiebreaker by virtue of their division record, which can be no better than 3-3. Since the AFC North foes split their two games this year, that would nullify the first two-way tiebreaker--head-to-head. The next two-way tiebreaker would be record within the division. If the Steelers win their remaining four games, they would be 4-2 in the division and capture the North crown.

How about the Browns? This is where it gets slightly more complicated. Cleveland has the same 2-2 divisional record as the Steelers, with games remaining against Cincinnati and Baltimore. If the Browns win-out, like Pittsburgh, they would be 11-5 and also 4-2 in the division. Since the two teams split their games earlier in the season, the third tiebreaker would be their record against common opponents. If the Browns run-the-table, both teams would have 9-3 records against common opponents. Then it would move down to conference record--the fourth two-way tiebreaker to determine a divisional champion. The best Cleveland can do is finish with a 7-5 mark in the AFC. The Steelers (currently 6-3 in the AFC) would finish 9-3 if they win their last four games and would win that tiebreaker over the Brownies.

Obviously, none of these tiebreakers consider Ben Roethlisberger and his inconsistent play lately, and they probably also don't factor-in that Antwon Blake will be trying to cover receivers during the last month of the season. But, yes, at this very moment, the Steelers really do control their own destiny in terms of winning the AFC North.

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