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Steelers' playoff scenarios complex

Steelers/NFL Videos

By Scott Brown
Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009
 

Following a heart-stopping, 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, several Steelers captains said they weren't even thinking about the playoffs.

Here's the kicker: if the 7-7 Steelers beat the 8-6 Ravens this Sunday at Heinz Field, they may actually control their playoff destiny heading into their regular-season finale Jan. 3 in Miami.

For that to happen, the Jets, Jaguars, Broncos and Texans have to lose this Sunday; all are underdogs in those games.

If such a scenario transpires, the Jets, Jaguars and Texans could finish no better than 8-8 and the Broncos would do no better than 9-7.

If the Steelers win out, the Dolphins would finish 8-8 at best, and the Ravens would finish no better than 9-7.

One plausible scenario given the remaining schedules of the teams in playoff contention would be the Steelers, Ravens and Broncos all finishing 9-7 and vying for the two AFC wild-card berths.

Under NFL guidelines for wild-card tiebreakers, the Ravens would eliminate the Steelers based on a better division record and get the No. 5 seed over the Broncos since they beat Denver earlier this season.

The final spot in the playoffs would come down to the Steelers and Broncos, and the defending Super Bowl champions would get in based on their 28-10 win Nov. 9 in Denver.

If the Titans would happen to win their remaining two games — they play host to red-hot San Diego on Christmas — and join the Steelers, Ravens and Broncos at 9-7, the Ravens and Steelers would still get the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds. The Steelers would get in because they have beaten the Broncos and Titans this season.

A lot has to happen, and if the Steelers don't win their last two games, all of the scenarios for them to make the playoffs are moot. But the team that won its last four games in 2005 and became the first sixth seed in NFL history to capture the Super Bowl title isn't out of postseason contention.

"I'm not really thinking about that right now," Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. "I know we're a long shot, and I just want to focus on these last two games."

Though only two weeks are left in the season, there still are countless scenarios that could play out. The Steelers may be the biggest wild card in what has become a muddled race for the two wild-card playoff berths in the AFC. The reason: they have been harder to figure out than the tax code.

The Steelers have beaten the Vikings, Packers and Chargers, who have won nine consecutive games. They also have lost to the Browns, Raiders and Chiefs, who have a combined record of 11-31.

"This is a crazy league; it really is," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said when asked to explain the route the Steelers have taken to 7-7.

What may be crazier is that a team that had been in the midst of a five-game losing streak still can consider itself in playoff contention even if the players won't talk about it — at least not publicly.

"All I care about," Roethlisberger said, "is us winning these last two games."

Wild race

Here are the teams that are bunched together in the battle for the two AFC wild-card spots:

Broncos (8-6) -- Play at Philadelphia on Sunday, and the Eagles clinch the NFC East with a win over Denver and a Cowboys loss.

Ravens (8-6) -- They needed OT to beat the Steelers in Baltimore, and the Steelers didn't have Ben Roethlisberger that game.

Steelers (7-7) -- If they beat the Ravens, their playoff chances drastically improve.

Dolphins (7-7) -- Could be a de facto playoff game when they play host to the Steelers on Jan. 3.

Jaguars (7-7) -- Play at New England on Sunday, and the Patriots clinch the AFC East title with a victory over Jacksonville.

Jets (7-7) -- Visit the undefeated Colts on Sunday and finish the season by playing host to the Bengals.

Texans (7-7) -- Visit Miami on Sunday and play host to the Patriots the following week.

Titans (7-7) -- They probably turn back into a Christmas pumpkin when they play the visiting Chargers.

Poised to clinch

The following is a list of AFC teams that can clinch playoff berths this week. The Colts (AFC South) and Chargers (AFC West) already have clinched division titles:

Patriots (9-5)

Clinches AFC East with:

• New England win or tie OR

• Miami loss or tie

Bengals(9-5)

Clinches AFC North with:

• Cincinnati win OR

• Cincinnati tie PLUS Baltimore loss or tie OR

• Baltimore loss

Clinches a playoff spot with:

• Cincinnati tie OR

• Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or tie PLUS Houston/Miami game ends in a tie

Ravens (8-6)

Clinches a playoff spot with:

• Baltimore win PLUS Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or tie OR

• Baltimore win PLUS Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS Denver loss OR

• Baltimore win PLUS Miami loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or tie PLUS Denver loss OR

• Baltimore tie PLUS New York Jets loss PLUS Jacksonville loss PLUS Tennessee loss or tie PLUS Houston/Miami game ends in a tie

Broncos (8-6)

Clinches a playoff spot with:

• Denver win PLUS Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS Miami loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or TIE plus Steelers loss or tie

Tiebreaker procedure

With a handful of teams, including the Steelers, in contention for a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs, here's how the NFL breaks ties:

Two teams

1. Head-to-head, if applicable.

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.

4. Strength of victory.

5. Strength of schedule.

6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.

Three or more teams

Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants.

1. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.

4. Strength of victory.

5. Strength of schedule.

6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.

 

 
 


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