The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer in complete control of their playoff destiny after dropping a winnable game Sunday afternoon against the New York Jets.
The Steelers (8-7) are still in contention for the sixth and final wild-card spot in the AFC with the Tennessee Titans (8-7) — who lost 38-28 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday — proving to be their biggest challenger, but two straight losses have made things desperate for Pittsburgh with a road matchup looming against the AFC’s top seed in the final week of the regular season.
Even a massive win next week, though, would not guarantee the Steelers will make the playoffs as the Titans now have the inside track to being the conference’s last postseason team.
Here’s a breakdown of the current AFC playoff picture after the Steelers’ 16-10 loss to the Jets along with an updated look at Pittsburgh’s remaining playoff scenarios heading into Week 17.
*Note: All data and percentages included here are courtesy of Playoff Status.
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Updated Look at the AFC Playoff Picture
Disclaimer: All projections will be updated live with relevant Week 16 final results
The Baltimore Ravens (13-2) clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC on Sunday afternoon with a 31-15 victory over Cleveland, which also effectively eliminated the Browns (6-9) as long-shot contenders in the AFC’s the wild-card race. The Oakland Raiders (6-8) were also facing long odds coming into Week 16, but losses by the Titans, Steelers and Browns give them an opportunity to stay alive into next week if they can win against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
Elsewhere, the New England Patriots (12-3) made themselves a near-lock for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win Saturday night over the Buffalo Bills (10-5), who were guaranteed the No. 5 seed in the loss as the Patriots clinched the AFC East.
The Kansas City Chiefs (10-4), though, will have an opportunity in Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears to threaten the Patriots’ claim to the No. 2 seed. If the Chiefs win both of their final two games and the Patriots lose their home finale, Kansas City would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker if they shared the same record. That said, it isn’t likely with the Patriots hosting the lowly Miami Dolphins for their last game of the regular season.
Down at the No. 4 seed, there isn’t much room for movement. Houston clinched the AFC South with a win over Tampa Bay in Week 16, but the Texans could only take the No. 3 seed if both they beat the Titans next week and the Chiefs lose their remaining two games — a scenario that could be ruled out by the end of Sunday night.
What Playoff Scenarios Remain for the Steelers?
The sixth seed is the only option left for the Steelers, but they will have to keep their fingers crossed even if they do their jobs and upset the Ravens next week on the road, which isn’t as much of a far cry as it might sound.
With the Ravens locked into the top spot, they will undoubtedly be resting some, if not most, of their key starters next week against the Steelers. A strong Pittsburgh performance could exploit their backup-heavy lineup and give way to an upset, but that wouldn’t totally seal the deal.
If the Steelers win, they can only make the playoffs if the Texans beat the Titans in Houston. If Tennessee manages to win and both wild-card contenders finish with the same record — or if both the Titans and Steelers lose out and both go 8-8 — the Titans would make the postseason and the Steelers would miss out.
Put it simply: Steelers fans should be rooting just as hard for the Texans next week as they are their own team.