The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to get back to a .500 record in Week 17 thanks to a big divisional win against their divisional rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. With just one game to go, it would seem that the Steelers’ season is all but over. But that could not be further from the truth. Surprisingly, Pittsburgh is still alive in the AFC playoff race and can sneak into the seventh spot. There is a path that gets them there but that requires some help along the way. The Pittsburgh Steelers, counted out early on, can still get into the 2022 NFL playoffs.
How the Pittsburgh Steelers Can Make the Playoffs
After an 18-year career, Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called it quits after the 2021 season. Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to the playoffs 12 times and did it most recently in his final year. The team had a seventh seed-worthy record of 9-7-1 but lost in the first round against the Kansas City Chiefs. The team fell to Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs 42-21 in Roethlisberger’s final game.
Going into 2022, the Steelers had very low expectations following a roster shakeup and three young, inexperienced quarterbacks battling for the starting role. Most were predicting that Pittsburgh would only muster between five and seven wins and have tremendous offensive difficulties early and often. That couldn’t be any more true, as the team started 2-6. Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett struggled with inefficiency and turnovers and the whole team suffered as a result. But a sudden burst of good play after the bye week has left the Steelers at 8-8. They have gone 6-2 in their past eight and remain alive in the hunt heading into a crucial Week 18.
In order for Pittsburgh to clinch a spot, they need three things to happen. They need a win over division rival Cleveland, Buffalo to beat New England, and New York to beat Miami. All three of these things would leave the Steelers as the lone 9-8 team and therefore give them the seventh and final spot. In reality, the two games not containing Pittsburgh can end in ties as long as Pittsburgh wins; if the Steelers tie, then both AFC East matchups must end in a New England and Miami loss.
Breaking Down Each Game In The Steelers’ Playoff Path
Browns vs. Steelers
Likely the toughest task in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff path is winning their own game. Any divisional game in the NFL can go either way even if one team is better. The Browns won the two teams’ most recent matchup in Week 3, a 29-17 victory at home. The game was much closer than the score indicates, as it was only a five-point game with a minute left. Pittsburgh’s lateral attempts at a run back were snagged by a Browns defender and taken back for a score, hence the larger, 12-point deficit. It was a close one and one could expect their Week 18 matchup to follow suit.
Kenny Pickett and Deshaun Watson will face off for the first time in their careers in Week 18. In Week 3, both teams were starting different quarterbacks; Trubisky was the man for the Steelers while Jacoby Brissett was under center for Cleveland. It will be an interesting game as both teams have found new schemes with their new quarterbacks. It will be tough for both teams to get the win but only Sunday can tell the result. Currently, the Steelers have a 53.4% chance to beat the Browns at home.
Every Kenny Pickett touchdown this season #kennypickett #HereWeGo #Steelers #pitt #H2P #Pittsburgh #nfl pic.twitter.com/fcbn5hNfBt
— matthew luciow (@Luciow1992) December 26, 2022
With a potential playoff berth at stake, both teams have something going. With a Steelers win, they get to knock off their most hated rival en route to clinching Mike Tomlin’s 16th straight non-losing season. But the Browns will be playing to play spoiler in their rival’s playoff chances and hope to dismantle their aspirations. A lot will be at stake, so expect a run-heavy, physical game between two rather interesting teams.
Patriots vs. Bills
The seemingly-easiest game for the Steelers’ playoff path falls in one of two AFC East matchups. The Buffalo Bills, who boast a 12-3 record and one of the NFL’s best teams, will play host to their rival New England in Week 18. The Patriots are 8-8 and beat the Steelers earlier on, so they still have a shot at making the playoffs with a win. But don’t expect a New England victory to come easy. The Bills dismantled New England 47-17 in the first round last year and beat them 24-10 on the road in Week 13. ESPN gives Buffalo a 78.5% chance to win at home, but it will be rather tough considering what Buffalo has had to endure this past week in terms of the Damar Hamlin incident.
Jets vs. Dolphins
This game features two on-the-rise AFC East teams who have ridden streaks this year. Both Miami and New York have looked like some of the NFL’s best teams at some points and also one of the league’s worst teams at other points. It is hard to tell what this game will bring especially given the phrase “any given Sunday.” Both of these teams looked like playoff contenders but now, only Miami holds on with thin and desperate hopes. With Tua Tagovailoa doubtful with a concussion and Teddy Bridgewater also doubtful, Miami will have to turn to rookie Skylar Thompson at quarterback.
Who knows what this game will bring but it will for sure either help or hurt the Steelers. A Jets win would at least preserve Pittsburgh’s chances but a Miami win would end them. As of now, the Jets have just a 36.3% chance to win in Miami but it is a necessary step in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff path.
Overall Playoff Chances
Taking the percentages from all three of those games, that leaves the Steelers with just a 15.2% chance to make it. It really is a miracle that they made it this far but they can’t look back now. Instead, they must play their best and hope for the best on Sunday.
Pittsburgh’s struggles and dependency on New York and Buffalo are really their own fault. The team dropped close games to Miami, New York, and New England early on and those have hurt them the most. A single one of those wins would’ve eliminated their dependency altogether and could’ve already had them a spot clinched. But they can’t dwell on the past and the mistakes they made; they can only look to this week and try to slip in to the 2022 AFC playoffs.
What If Pittsburgh Makes It?
If Pittsburgh actually makes it, they will have a tough matchup right away. As the seventh seed, they will have to play either Buffalo, the Cincinnati Bengals, or the Kansas City Chiefs on the road. All of the top three seeds are still up for grabs with one final game to go and the status of the Bills-Bengals postponed game is still in the air. Buffalo seems the most likely opponent to start should they make it that far to begin with.
The Bills destroyed the Steelers in Week 5, cruising to a 38-3 home victory where Josh Allen threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. It’s hard to believe that a playoff matchup would be that bad but Pittsburgh would likely not fare well against the Bills or the Chiefs’ volatile offenses. Now, if the Bengals slide into the number two spot somehow, Pittsburgh has at least a chance of winning. They beat Cincinnati 23-20 in Week 1 but fell 37-30 later in the year. They have experience with them and could at least play them close. All of these scenarios are big what-ifs, but it’s likely that the Steelers will have a first-round exit.