Do the Steelers deserve to make the playoffs?
Thankfully, postseason seeding in the NFL is based on math and not on who deserves to get in. However, if there was an obscure tiebreaker that stated, "Any team that falls twice in the same year to another team with double-digit losses is automatically eliminated from the playoffs," the Steelers would now officially be done thanks to their 20-17 loss to AFC North-rival and now 5-10 Baltimore Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
The loss by Pittsburgh (9-6) coupled with the overtime victory by the Jets (10-5) over New England means that the black and gold now need a victory over the Browns next week and a New York loss to a 7-8, and nothing to play for, Bills team in order to make the playoffs.
Even if the Steelers win in Cleveland in Week 17, what are the chances of Buffalo holding up its end of the bargain? I guess you could say the chances are equal to everything that transpired on Sunday, with the Jets defeating mighty New England as well as the Ravens and their backups, that included recently-signed quarterback Ryan Mallett, who managed to complete 28 of 41 passes for 274 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, defeating Pittsburgh.
But it certainly didn't have to come down to a win and a prayer.
Four weeks ago, after the Steelers fell to Seattle and were sitting at 6-5 and in eighth place in the AFC, what would you have given for an eventual 9-5 record and a "win two games over two hapless, double-digit loss teams and you're in" scenario to end the season?
With everything that transpired earlier in the year, from the suspensions to all those injuries, it would have been awesome to have that chance.
After the 34-27 come-from-behind victory over the Broncos last week, Pittsburgh had that opportunity on Sunday. Who cares about New York defeating the Patriots? The Steelers controlled their own fate; win two games, and they would be in the playoffs for the second year in a row
But who would have counted on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger having his worst game in recent memory, as he completed 24 of 34 passes for 215 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions that led directly to 10 points for Baltimore? Who would have counted on Mallett playing relatively awesome against a Pittsburgh defense that had trouble tackling and getting off the field on third down (Baltimore converted 9 of 18 third downs, while the Steelers were just 2 of 8 on the day)?
You can say what you want about coaching and decisions, but the Steelers came into the day facing a team that lost by a combined 59 points at home to the Seahawks and Chiefs over the past two weeks, yet Baltimore led the entire 60 minutes on Sunday and basically dictated the action from start to finish.
The Steelers situation isn't as dire as it was in Week 17 of 2009, when they needed a combination of two teams to lose and them to win in-order to make the playoffs; it's certainly not as bad as it was two years ago, when they needed a victory over the Browns and three losses by fellow AFC teams in-order to make the postseason.
But a lot can happen in a game you don't control (apparently, there was a snafu in the overtime coin toss between the Patriots and Jets, where New England should have received the kickoff).
The 2015 Steelers enter the final week without control of their own destiny, and if they do miss the playoffs for the third time in four years, they won't be able to blame Ryan Succop or the officials; they won't be able to blame a tough schedule, suspensions or injuries. Nope, the blame will fall squarely on their own shoulders.