Steelers’ Playoff Hopes Hang in the Balance: Key Games Determine AFC Wild-Card Fate

PITTSBURGH, PA – The final week of the 2023 NFL regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are feeling the pressure as their playoff hopes hang in the balance. With just a few games left, the Steelers’ fate will be determined by a series of outcomes over the next two days. While there is a scenario that could potentially secure their playoff spot even with a loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, the clearest path to the playoffs for the Steelers is a victory.

In addition to a Steelers win, there are several other crucial outcomes that will make or break their playoff chances. According to Timo Riske of Pro Football Focus, there is a list of these outcomes that will be pivotal for Pittsburgh (link below).

First on the list is the Tennessee Titans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars game. The Titans may not be in contention for a playoff spot, but they have the opportunity to play spoiler against their division rivals. If the Steelers win against the Ravens and the Jaguars lose to the Titans, the Steelers will secure at least the seventh seed for the Wild-Card round of the playoffs. This outcome would allow the Steelers to avoid the anxious wait until late Sunday evening to know their fate. To edge out the Jaguars, the Steelers would need a better overall record, with a projected 10-7 for the Steelers and 9-8 for the Jaguars.

The Jaguars’ starting quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, is questionable for the game due to a shoulder injury. Head coach Doug Pederson has indicated that Lawrence’s availability will likely be a game-time decision. Although the Jaguars managed to win their last game without Lawrence, it was against the struggling Carolina Panthers, who currently hold the worst record in football. If Lawrence is unable to play, the Jaguars will rely on C.J. Beathard to lead them in this critical matchup.

Next, the Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills game holds significance for the Steelers. While the Dolphins have already secured a playoff spot with an 11-6 record, their position in the playoffs is still uncertain. A win for the Dolphins means they will host a playoff game, but a loss would allow the Bills to leap ahead of them and clinch the AFC East. Currently, the Bills are ahead of the Steelers in the playoff standings, but if the Bills lose and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh will move up.

In the event of a Steelers win and a Bills loss, both teams would hold a 10-7 record. However, the Steelers would come out on top based on their conference record, with a 7-5 record compared to the Bills’ 6-6 record. If both the Bills and Jaguars lose and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh could potentially secure the sixth seed in the playoffs. Notably, this game between the Dolphins and Bills is the last game of the season on Sunday Night Football, adding to the suspense for the Steelers if other outcomes don’t go their way.

In another scenario, the Steelers could still secure the seventh seed in the AFC Playoffs even with a loss. If the Denver Broncos defeat the Las Vegas Raiders and the Jaguars lose to the Titans, a four-way tie for the seventh seed would be created. For the Steelers to make it in, the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts must not tie. In this tiebreaker scenario, the Steelers would have the advantage due to their strength of schedule and a 4-2 divisional record.

Lastly, there is the Colts vs. Texans game, which presents some uncertainty regarding its impact on the Steelers’ playoff chances. While Riske’s chart does not include this game due to its unlikely nature, it is important to consider the possibilities. If the Steelers win, regardless of other outcomes, a tie between the Texans and Colts would benefit Pittsburgh, as it would give them a 10-7 record while the Texans and Colts would be 9-7-1. However, if the Steelers lose, a tie would hurt their chances, as they would end with a 9-8 record, and the win percentages of the Colts and Texans would eliminate them from playoff contention. Fortunately, the Steelers-Ravens game is the first game of the weekend, which means the question of whether to root for or against a tie will be resolved early on.

As the 2023 NFL regular season draws to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a precarious position, needing favorable outcomes in multiple games to secure a playoff spot. A win against the Ravens remains their best shot at making it to the postseason, but other results, including the Titans vs. Jaguars, Dolphins vs. Bills, Raiders vs. Broncos, and Colts vs. Texans games, could still impact their chances. Regardless of the different scenarios, one thing is clear – the Steelers’ playoff hopes hinge on a series of outcomes that they are eagerly anticipating.