As hard as it is to believe, the Pittsburgh Steelers are probably missing the playoffs. After a brutal loss to the Saints in an incredibly close game in New Orleans, Pittsburgh finds itself 8-6-1 and on the outside looking in. On Sunday morning the Steelers were the No. 4 seed and they’re now the No. 8 seed and that’s not good enough to make it into the tournament.
The result is Pittsburgh needing a ton of help to get into the postseason. There are only two paths and only one of them is remotely likely. Pittsburgh would need the Browns to beat the Ravens in Baltimore — which is plausible, but not the favored outcome by Vegas, especially the way Baltimore is playing — and the Steelers would need to beat the Bengals. Do that, and the Steelers would secure the AFC North. (The Ravens would also miss the playoffs in very painful fashion for the second straight year on a loss to a division rival.)
Pittsburgh could also get in if the Steelers win and the Titans and Colts TIE in Week 17, a fairly unlikely scenario. In other words, the Steelers are in a very uncomfortable spot right now (no, not the back of A Volkswagen).
It’s of their own making, when you consider things like the loss to the Raiders on the road a few weeks back and a tie earlier to the Browns. They didn’t win enough close games; their victory over the Patriots last week was massive, but it didn’t hold up very well because of how things played out in Week 16.
Indy/Tennessee actually becomes a win-and-get-in game — if one of those teams wins (and there’s no tie), that team will be at worse the No. 6 seed in the AFC. If Houston loses, that winning team would actually be the AFC South champion. Expect that game to be on Sunday night next week.
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Here’s how the rest of the NFL playoff picture looks, as well as a snapshot of what could impact how it looks after Week 16 and beyond.
AFC: Who’s in
1. (x) Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
The Chiefs had a chance to seal the division and to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Neither happened, with Kansas City losing to Seattle on Sunday night. Now there’s a LOT up in the air. The Chiefs can beat the Raiders and still clinch the AFC West and the top seed, but lose and things get HAIRY. A loss and the Patriots beating the Jets would send the Chiefs out of the top spot as the Pats have the tiebreaker over KC by head-to-head. A loss to the Raiders and a Chargers win against the Broncos would be really devastating, as the Chiefs would end up as the No. 5 seed, because the Chargers would win the division. That would be awkward. They will be motivated to beat up on Oakland.
2. (y) New England Patriots (10-5)
The Patriots didn’t stomp the Bills and Tom Brady didn’t look particularly good, but they won handily enough and moved to 10-5. And, more importantly, they got a game on the Texans because of Houston’s loss to Philly. New England now just has to beat the Jets at home in Week 17 to secure a first-round bye. The Patriots don’t need lucky breaks, but they’re getting them anyway.
3. (x) Houston Texans (10-5)
The Texans put together an incredible comeback against the Eagles only to cough up the lead shortly after they got it, allowing Philly to march down and kick a game-winning field goal. The result is the Texans falling to 10-5 and sitting just one game up on the Colts, who can now steal the division. If the Texans lose to the Jaguars in Week 17, the winner of Indy/Tennessee would take the AFC South title and the No. 3 seed.
4. Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
The Ravens had quite the weekend: they went to Los Angeles and manhandled the Chargers — their potential first-round playoff opponent. Then the Steelers lost, setting up Baltimore for a division-clinching victory on Sunday if they can take care of the Browns.
5. (x) Los Angeles Chargers (11-4)
The Chargers couldn’t figure out how to solve the Ravens defense on Saturday night in L.A., falling 22-10 against the Ravens one week after beating the Chiefs and throwing the AFC West race into doubt. Now the Chargers will need to win in Week 17 and hope the Chiefs lose their final two games; otherwise, they’ll be the five seed and hitting the road on Wild-Card Weekend. It’s looking likely the Chargers could get a rematch against the Ravens in Baltimore. The Chargers need to beat the Broncos next week and have the Chiefs to lose out in order to get the No. 1 seed.
6. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
The Colts stormed back late against the Giants and then watched the Steelers lose to the Saints, which means the Colts will head into Week 17 as the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Wild stuff. Indy is playing the Titans: the winner is IN. If the two teams were to TIE, the Steelers would get in as a wild card, assuming the Steelers win. The Colts can win the AFC South if they beat the Titans and the Texans lose to the Jaguars.
AFC: Who’s out
7. Tennessee Titans (9-6): The Titans had a nice weekend as well, beating the Redskins to get to nine wins and setting up a win-and-get in scenario at home. The Titans just need to beat the Colts and they’ll be the No. 6 seed. Tennessee can also still win the division if they beat the Colts and the Texans lose to the Jaguars.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1): Oh boy. What a brutal loss for the Steelers, who were beating the Saints for much of the game. The Steelers now need help to get into the playoffs. If the Ravens lose at home to the Browns and the Steelers beat the Bengals, Pittsburgh would win the AFC North. The Steelers could also be the No. 6 seed in the AFC if the Titans and Colts tie. Otherwise Pittsburgh, an obviously talented but flawed team, will be sitting at home come January.
AFC: Who’s Eliminated
9. Cleveland Browns (7-7-1)
10. Miami Dolphins (7-8)
11. Denver Broncos (6-8)
12. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9)
13. Buffalo Bills (5-10)
14. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)
15. New York Jets (4-11)
16. Oakland Raiders (3-11)
NFC: Who’s in
1. (*) New Orleans Saints (13-2)
The Saints needed the Steelers to go for a fake punt late in New Orleans but they beat the Steelers and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. (y) Los Angeles Rams (12-3)
No Todd Gurley? No problem. C.J. Anderson, signed off the street earlier this week, stepped in for the Rams and ran for 167 yards and a score against the hapless Cardinals to help the Rams move to 12 wins. Los Angeles still needs to win next week to avoid not getting the first-round bye, because the Bears have the tiebreak over L.A. via head-to-head.
3. (y) Chicago Bears (11-4)
The Bears are hitting their stride, but they were tested in San Francisco against a 49ers team that has been impressive at home as of late.
4. (y) Dallas Cowboys (9-6)
The Cowboys needed to get right on Sunday against the Buccaneers, and even though they let Tampa in the back door and only won by a touchdown, they still came away with the win and secured the NFC East division title. That’s massive for a team that had Philadelphia breathing down its neck. Jason Garrett’s extension is forthcoming.
5. (x) Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
The Seahawks took care of BUSINESS against the Chiefs, looking like a legitimate Super Bowl contender en route to defeating Patrick Mahomes at home on Sunday night. The Seahawks clinched a playoff berth and are in a good spot to land the No. 5 seed: Minnesota winning and Seattle losing would flip that, of course, but if Seattle wins they land the fifth seed. Seattle clinched because of their conference record: at 7-4, they would win any tiebreaker with the Eagles, who are just 5-6 in the NFC. (Philly can’t make up the difference in one week, obviously.)
6. Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1)
The Vikings put together another convincing win on Sunday, going on the road and put a hurting on the Lions with a combination of the running game and defense. Famed reindeer namesake Kyle Rudolph had a huge Christmas, catching a pair of touchdown passes along with 121 receiving yards to give the Vikings a major edge at making the playoffs. The Vikings can clinch with a win against the Bears in Week 17 (but the Bears will be playing their starters to try and get the bye) or with an Eagles loss to the Redskins.
NFC: Who’s out
7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7): The Eagles won in semi-miracle fashion on Sunday afternoon, kicking a late field goal to keep their playoff hopes alive. They’re the only team that can steal a playoff spot: they need the Vikings to lose to the Bears in Week 17 along with the Eagles winning against the Redskins next week.
NFC: Who’s Eliminated
8. Washington Redskins (7-8)
9. Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-9)
11. Carolina Panthers (6-9)
12. New York Giants (5-10)
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)
14. Detroit Lions (5-10)
15. San Francisco 49ers (4-10)
14. Arizona Cardinals (3-11)
(x) – clinched playoff berth
(y) – clinched division
(z) – clinched first-round bye
(*) – clinched home-field advantage