The Steelers will not be repeating as AFC North champions in 2021. But at 7-7-1 going into Monday night’s home game against the Browns (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN2), they still have an outside chance of making the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team.
Pittsburgh no longer can win the division because Cincinnati (10-6) wrapped up that title Sunday with its big comeback win over Kansas City. SN breaks down the Steelers’ lone remaining path to the postseason:
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NFL playoff picture: Steelers playoff chances
The final two playoff teams in the AFC at the moment are the No. 6 Colts (9-7) and No. 7 Chargers (9-7). The No. 8 Raiders (9-7) and No. 9 Ravens (8-8) are also ahead of the Steelers.
But the Week 18 schedule has the Chargers playing at the Raiders and the Steelers playing at the Ravens. That, along with the Steelers having an unique record because of their tie, makes their playoff scenario easy:
1. The Steelers must win out
By beating the Browns and then the Ravens, the Steelers would improve to 9-7-1. The Browns are already eliminated. The Ravens are in a similar situation of needing to win their final game and needing help.
2. The Colts must lose
The Colts could have earned a playoff berth as a wild card behind the AFC South-winning Titans in Week 17, but they made things more interesting by losing to the Raiders at home. The Steelers need the Colts to stay cold and be upset at the Jaguars in Week 18.
3. The Chargers or Raiders must win
In other words, the Chargers or Raiders must lose (with the other team winning, of course) in Week 18. As long as their game doesn’t end in a tie, putting both teams at 9-7-1, the Steelers would be in with wins over the Browns and Ravens coupled with a loss by the Colts.
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The Steelers cannot make the playoffs if the Chargers and Raiders are 9-7-1 with them. Why? They lost at home to the Raiders in Week 2 and lost on the road to the Chargers in Week 11. The Chargers would make the playoffs in this case.
Should all three things happen, the Steelers would be 9-7-1 by themselves, a half-game ahead of the Colts at 9-8. Either the Chargers or Raiders would be a half-game ahead of the Steelers at 10-7, and the other would also be a half-game behind at 9-8.
The best the Steelers can do is the No. 7 seed, with the Colts eliminated and the Chargers-Raiders winner moving up to No. 6.