(KDKA) — The Steelers dropped their third straight game on Monday night 27-17 to the 2-10-1 Cincinnati Bengals, a shocking outcome in its own right. But, the game also has potential ramifications for the rest of the AFC playoff picture now with two games left to play, including the Steelers themselves.
At 11-3, the Steelers now sit in third place in the conference behind the Buffalo Bills who just beat them last week. They are also now just one game ahead of the Cleveland Browns in the division race with a date against Cleveland still remaining in Week 17. And, the Steelers loss Monday night essentially wraps up the top seed for the Kansas City Chiefs (99% chance of first-round bye per FiveThirtyEight) meaning all roads go through Arrowhead Stadium this January.
“It makes for even more interesting play down the stretch because a couple of weeks ago, I was looking at that Browns-Steelers game Week 17 and just wondering if the Steelers would be playing anyone,” said NFL on CBS analyst Charles Davis. “I figured they would be locked in at 1 or 2. Guess what. We don’t know that now, that could be for the division title.”
If the Steelers were to lose to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday and the Browns were to beat the Jets, the Week 17 matchup between the two determines who wins the AFC North. Even if they were to beat the Browns and retain the division title at 12-4, they could remain in the third seed due to the Bills keeping that second seed if they win out over the Patriots and Dolphins.
“Buffalo, instead of sitting there Week 17 with Miami already locked in, now, we may have to play this thing out,” said Davis. “That may be for the two seed.”
To that point, the Steelers loss has implications at the bottom of the playoff standings too. If Buffalo is in a position to need a win to clinch the two seed in Week 17, they could deal Miami the loss that the Baltimore Ravens need to get into the playoffs. Then that would put the Steelers in position to face those Ravens on Wild Card Weekend. Here’s how.
-Steelers lose to Colts Week 16, beat Browns Week 17 to finish 12-4, third seed
-Bills beat Patriots Week 16, beat Dolphins Week 17 finish 13-3, second seed
-Indy beats Steelers Week 16, Jaguars Week 17 finish 12-4 but get fifth seed because
-Tennessee beats Packers Week 16, Texans week 17 finish 12-4 with tiebreaker for fourth seed.
-Ravens beat Giants Week 16, beat Bengals Week 17, finish 11-5 with tiebreaker over Browns for sixth seed
-Browns beat Jets Week 16, lose to Steelers Week 17, finish 11-5 and seventh seed ahead of 10-6 Dolphins left on the outside looking in.
On the surface, a third Ravens-Steelers matchup is great news for Pittsburgh having beaten Baltimore twice already. But, as Davis puts it, “if Baltimore jumps in there and gets one of the last spots….I think Baltimore is the team you don’t want to get into the playoffs if you have to play them. They’re the one you’re hoping, if they get left home, ‘I’m good.”
That’s no disrespect to the other Wild Card teams Davis says, but instead a reflection of the fact that he believes the Ravens have “gotten their mojo back“.
This is all hypothetical at the moment as it’s still possible of course that the Steelers win both games and wrap the season 13-3 with the second seed in hand if the Bills lose one of their next two games. But, the FiveThirtyEight game projections model has flipped on the Steelers. It sees them as slight underdogs against the Colts (47% win probability) and Browns (42% win probability).
An 0-2 finish? That could drop the Steelers all the way to the sixth seed at 11-5 staring down a Wild Card Weekend away game in Cleveland or as a fifth seed looking at an away game at Indianapolis.
The point is, the Steelers went from a virtual lock to win the AFC North entering Monday night’s game (87% win probability) and an outside shot at the top seed, to now needing to win both of their final games to secure homefield advantage past Wild Card Weekend.
It starts Sunday with the Colts visiting Heinz Field with kickoff set for 1 p.m. EST on CBS.