As Week 16 of the NFL season approaches, playoff-clinching scenarios are continuing to present themselves for teams that haven’t locked up spots in the postseason. Some teams not only need to win but get help from other teams in order to cash in on playoff aspirations. Other teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5), control their own destiny in terms of a playoff berth.
The Steelers, who have won five of six, are one of three teams competing for two wild-card slots in the AFC, with the Kansas City Chiefs (9-5) and the New York Jets (9-5) being the other two. If all three teams were to win out and finish 11-5, it would be the Jets who would be left out based on tiebreakers.
The scenario is quite simple for Mike Tomlin’s team: win the last two games and a playoff berth is secured. Pittsburgh actually has a chance, albeit an unlikely one, of winning the AFC North if they win out and Cincinnati loses both of their remaining games, leaving both teams 11-5 and headed to tiebreakers.
So how good is Pittsburgh’s chance of winning the last two and getting in? Quite good, actually. Their schedule is the easiest of the three teams competing for the wild-card spots in terms of opponents’ win percentage. They do go on the road for the final two weeks to play division rivals but the schedule lines up favorably against the Baltimore Ravens (4-10) and Cleveland Browns (3-11). According to the math at FiveThirtyEight, the Steelers possess a 90 percent chance of making it into the field of six AFC playoff teams.
Las Vegas betting odds have the Steelers as 6/1 favorites to win the Super Bowl, just behind the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, and Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots have the best odds of winning the AFC Championship (6/5), but the Steelers are not far behind (19/10). Meanwhile, the Steelers are currently 10.5-point favorites in Baltimore on Sunday, according to Sportsbook.ag.
In a Thursday night game in Week 4, the Ravens upset the Steelers at Heinz Field in overtime, 23-20. But that Ravens team had Joe Flacco under center and Justin Forsett in the backfield, both of whom are now done for the season. Pittsburgh was also without Ben Roethlisberger, who was out with an MCL sprain, and had Michael Vick starting at quarterback.
Baltimore is 1-3 since losing Flacco, including dropping their last three. The Steelers can clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 with a win and a Jets loss to New England.
In Week 17, Pittsburgh travels to Cleveland for what could wind up as a clinching game in the regular-season finale. In Week 10, the Steelers were home favorites by more than a touchdown and beat the Browns, 30-9. Roethlisberger entered the game as a backup to rookie Landry Jones, who got hurt early on. Roethlisberger threw for 379 yards and three touchdowns in relief while Antonio Brown caught 10 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The Browns will look to Johnny Manziel again, who had his best game of the season (372 passing yards) the last time these two met.
Tomlin's squad has plenty of momentum entering the final two weeks of the season and the Steelers don’t necessarily have to play their best football to hold off the Ravens and Browns. A playoff berth seems like a lock if they can avoid costly penalties and turnovers.