Sorry for being short but I actually had another of my trademark 1000 word monstrosities analyzing every potentiality playoff team in the queue when my computer decided to eat it. So you’ll have to settle for the Cliff’s Notes version of my opus.
The AFC is a trash heap. The playoff picture is both clear and an absolute mess. Clear in that the division leaders are all pretty well settled. We also know one Wild Card will come from the loser of the Kansas City-Denver battle for AFC South supremacy. One of those teams will finish with 11 or 12 wins, barring some sort of epic collapse.
Nobody else is even above .500. Two teams, the Jets and Dolphins, currently sit at 5-5. Behind them, there are six teams that are 4-6, including our Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, thanks to Da Bears downing the Ravens and the Browns being the Browns, all three of the also-rans in the AFC North are knotted up at 4 wins each. As I pretty much cautioned all season, the level of mediocrity is such that the Steelers had little trouble bringing themselves back into the pack.
What’s more, the Steelers actually have their destiny in their own hands. When three or more teams are tied, then the NFL goes to a complicated series of tiebreaks starting with Conference record. But a two way tie is determined by head-to-head results. And that’s where they have control.
The Steelers beat the Jets a couple weeks back so that win’s already in hand. They play the Browns, Ravens, and Dolphins over the next three weeks. Now I realize a three game winning streak is a preposterous expectation but if they were to run the table, they’d hold tie breaks over four of the seven teams in the playoff hunt. If we included the 4-7 Bills in the discussion, they have the advantage over them, too.
At this point, the only loss that looks catastrophic was the one to the Raiders. The Titans are one of the 4-6 teams but they’re in freefall, going 1-4 over their last five after losing their starting QB for the season. San Diego is lurking, as well, so they bear watching but Oakland is the big one. Losing that game could very well come back to haunt them.
Although as I said in my opening, the time to worry about playoffs hasn’t come quite yet. Like I always told Pirates fans whenever they wondered if perhaps their team had turned a corner, get to .500 first. Once you’re there, then you can start worrying about the next step. When the Steelers even their record, then we can take a serious look at the playoffs.
Until then, we’re still just digging ourselves out of a hole.