I blame you, Steelers.
It’s your fault my journalistic accuracy has been compromised this week.
First, I wrote that a Dolphins win over the Patriots Sunday afternoon would mathematically eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention, regardless of what the Steelers do against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night.
That was wrong.
Then I wrote that a Steelers loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field would officially knock them out of the playoff race.
Not necessarily, it turns out.
That’s right. Even if the Steelers lose Sunday night and can finish no better than 7-9, their playoff heart still will beat as long as the Dolphins (home to New England) and Jets (at Carolina) lose Sunday afternoon and the Ravens (at Detroit) lose Monday night.
I’ve learned my lesson. Never again will I try to decipher the playoff picture on my own. I finally can set the record straight thanks to PlayoffStatus.com, a site that outlines playoff scenarios not only for the NFL but also the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and the 2014 World Cup, among others.
Of course, if it weren’t for the Steelers’ maddeningly inconsistent play this season, I wouldn’t have to compute all these permutations and calculations to figure out how they can get into the playoffs.
This would be a simpler task if Antonio Brown had kept his foot inbounds after he had every Dolphin beat on the final play of Sunday’s game.
Or if 10 of the Steelers’ 11 defenders didn’t crowd around Darren McFadden like a bunch of 12-year-old boys looking at a “Playboy” while Terrelle Pryor ran 93 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage at Oakland.
Or if Isaac Redman hadn’t fumbled with the Steelers six yards away from a two-possession lead in the season opener against the Titans.
There was a time when the Steelers didn’t need all kinds of help to reach the postseason. The only question was whether they would win the AFC North and get a first-round bye.
So how in the name of Bubby Brister could the 5-8 Steelers still be in the playoff hunt if they lose Sunday night?
If they fall to the Bengals but win their last two (at Green Bay, home to Cleveland) to finish 7-9, they’d make the playoffs if all of the following things happen:
- The Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers all lose out to finish 7-9.
- The Jets lose at Carolina and lose to the Browns at home in Week 16, then beat the Dolphins at Miami in Week 17 to finish 7-9.
- The Titans lose two of their last three games, which are home to Arizona, at Jacksonville and home to Houston.
- The Bills, Browns, Jaguars and Raiders all lose at least one more game.
If that all unfolds, the Steelers, Ravens, Jets, Dolphins and Chargers all would be tied for the final playoff spot at 7-9. When multiple teams tie for a wild-card spot, ties are first broken within divisions.
The Steelers would win the tiebreaker over the Ravens because of a 6-6 record vs. common opponents. The Ravens would be 5-7. That’s the third tiebreaker. Points aren’t a factor until the seventh tiebreaker, so the Ravens couldn’t blame Mike Tomlin and his errant foot.
In the AFC East, the Jets would have the tiebreaker over the Dolphins with a better division record. The Steelers would then avoid the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Dolphins, which they’d lose.
That would boil it down to a three-way tie between the Steelers, Jets and Chargers. The Steelers would have a 5-7 conference record while the Jets and Chargers both would be 4-8. So the Steelers would get the No. 6 seed.
If this is too confusing, another way to look at it is that the Steelers would have less than a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs if they lose one more game, according to PlayoffStatus.com. Even if they win out, their chances of making the playoffs would only be 7 percent.
At least the playoffs remain a possibility for one more game. Considering the Steelers’ 0-4 start, that’s not a bad Christmas present.