Friday, November 18, 2011

Steelers Stretch Run, Playoff Thoughts and Scenarios

With the Steelers on a bye week there isn’t much going on in terms of the Steelers but that doesn’t mean there aren’t games and situations you shouldn’t be paying attention to as we gear up for the stretch run of the season. I really didn’t plan on throwing anything up for the bye week because I have been swamped at work and it has been nice to just take it easy and not worrying about writing parts of previews for every night but I had an itch to throw something up and I figured why the hell not.

With the Steelers sitting at 7-3 on the season there is a pretty good chance that they are going to sneak into the playoffs and with the Jets losing on Thursday night there is a distinct possibility that there might be three teams from the AFC North that get into the playoffs, but that is a long ways away. First lets take a look at what lies ahead for the Steelers and the teams they will be fighting with for the AFC playoff picture.

Thanks to coolstandings.com we see that these are the following playoff chances for the AFC:



Let’s start getting into this first by the AFC North division as the Steelers will probably have the best chance to advancing to the Super Bowl by winning the AFC North and securing home field through at least a portion of the playoffs.

As you see from the picture above the Steelers have about a 37% chance of winning the division as opposed to 50% for the Ravens and 14% for the Bengals. That doesn’t add up to 100% but that is because there is a minimal percentage that the Browns win the division and I did some rounding. You get the idea.

Obviously the Steelers are going to have a harder time winning the division because they dropped two division games to the Ravens already and that is the first tie breaker if both teams finish with the same record to end the season. The Bengals would be a much better dual for the Steelers because they already beat them one time and they still have a game against them. So right now the Steelers are 1-2 (defeated Bengals, lost to Ravens twice), the Ravens are 2-0 (defeated Steelers twice) and the Bengals are 1-1 (lost to Steelers, defeated Browns). There are still a ton of games left and here are how the schedules finish out for those three teams fighting for the AFC North.

Steelers (3 home, 3 away, .481 winning percentage of remaining teams)
Nov. 27 – @ Kansas City
Dec. 4 – vs. Cincinnati
Dec. 8 – vs. Cleveland
Dec. 19 – @ San Francisco
Dec. 24 – vs. St. Louis
Jan. 1 – @ Cleveland

Ravens (4 home, 3 away, .476 winning percentage of remaining teams)
Nov 20 – vs. Cincinnati
Nov. 24 – vs. San Francisco
Dec. 4 – @ Cleveland
Dec. 11 – vs. Indianapolis
Dec. 18 – @ San Diego
Dec. 24 – vs. Cleveland
Jan. 1 – @ Cincinnati

Bengals (4 home, 3 away, .517 winning percentage of remaining teams)
Nov. 20 – @ Baltimore
Nov. 27 – vs. Cleveland
Dec. 4 – @ Pittsburgh
Dec. 11 – vs. Houston
Dec. 19 – @ St. Louis
Dec. 24 – vs. Arizona
Jan. 1 – vs. Baltimore

So as you can see from the remaining schedules you can see this is going to be close. Cincinnati is playing a much tougher schedule which is helped out by playing Baltimore twice along with a good Houston team. That game against Houston looks much different now without Matt Schaub but the Texans defense is still one of the best in the league so it still should be a game that is up in the air. Baltimore still have two games with Cincinnati so that will likely determine a lot of this if they can sweep those games. They also play a tough home game against San Francisco and a game where they travel to San Diego. Pittsburgh has a pretty friendly schedule with really only two games I think they could lose against the Bengals and having to go to San Francisco to play a Monday Night tilt with the 49ers. The games against the Chiefs, Rams, Browns (twice) really don’t concern me too much but I guess anything can happen.

If you asked me to predict the end of the season here is what it looks like to me:

Steelers
Best case: 12-4 (loss: @ San Francisco)
Worst case: 10-6 (losses: @ San Francisco, vs. Cincinnati, @ Cleveland)

Ravens
Best case: 12-4 (loss: @ Cincinnati)
Worst case: 10-6 (losses: @ Cincinnati, @ San Diego, vs. San Francisco)

Cincinnati
Best Case: 11-5 (losses: @ Pittsburgh, @ Baltimore)
Worst Case: 9-7 (losses: @ Pittsburgh, @ Baltimore, vs. Baltimore, vs. Houston)

Those are some pretty broad records but I think you could see both scenarios happening. There is still a ton of football to be played in the division and this will be key. Obviously to get the home field in the playoffs you want to win the division so this will be the overall key. What most likely the Steelers need to happen is for the Ravens to lose at least two games. With two losses that will let the Steelers slip up in one game and still win the division. Overall I think if the Ravens finish the season 12-4 I don’t see the Steelers winning out. I agree with the division predictions here as the Ravens are the pretty clear front runner but their loss last week opened the door wide open for the Steelers winning the division despite losing to the Ravens twice.

Now that we have talked about the division let’s take a look at the rest of the AFC and see how good a chance the Steelers have of getting in. On Thursday Night Football there was a huge game for the Steelers as the Jets were defeated by the Broncos which gave the Jets five losses. Here is how the AFC looks right now:



The important record to look at in the grand scheme of the AFC picture is the conference record. The Steelers have three losses in the conference and this record is the tie breaker among tied teams when head-to-head tie breaker doesn’t apply or the teams split the season series. The Steelers are OK in this aspect but they really can’t afford to lose any more than one of these contests. The Steelers currently hold head-to-head tiebreakers over the Patriots and Titans while they have games remaining against the Chiefs and Bengals. The Steelers would lose out the tiebreaker to both Baltimore and Houston. I don’t know how much I am worried about Houston without Matt Schaub and the tie breaker to Baltimore only applies in the division since it would not really break up a seeding spot if the Steelers get the wild card.

Like I said before the Steelers sit pretty comfortable with only eight teams having four or less losses. The Steelers have the tie breaker over the Titans who have four losses and the Bills is the other team that could realistically knock the Steelers out of a playoff spot. Obviously I am taking into account that the Steelers have a good shot at winning these games the rest of the season so unless teams like the Broncos, Jets, Chargers or Chiefs win out they should be alright since the Steelers are at least two games better than those teams before this weekend.

With that being said here is the remaining schedules of the teams with four or less losses:

Houston (3 home, 3 away, .389 winning percentage of remaining teams)
Nov. 27 – @ Jacksonville
Dec. 4 – vs. Atlanta
Dec. 11 – @ Cincinnati
Dec. 19 – vs. Carolina
Dec. 24 – @ Indianapolis
Jan. 1 – vs. Tennessee

New England (4 home, 3 away, .341 winning percentage of remaining teams)
Nov. 21 – vs. Kansas City
Nov. 27 – @ Philadelphia
Dec. 4 – vs. Indianapolis
Dec. 11 – @ Washington
Dec. 19 – @ Denver
Dec. 24 – vs. Miami
Jan. 1 – vs. Buffalo

Oakland (3 home, 4 away, .524 winning percentage of games remaining)
Nov. 20 – @ Minnesota
Nov. 27 – vs. Chicago
Dec. 4 – @ Miami
Dec. 11 – @ Green Bay
Dec. 18 – vs. Detroit
Dec. 24 – @ Kansas City
Jan. 1 – vs. San Diego

Buffalo (3 home, 4 away, .444 winning percentage of remaining games)
Nov. 20 – @ Miami
Nov. 27 – @ New York Jets
Dec. 4 – vs. Tennessee
Dec. 11 – @ San Diego
Dec. 19 – vs. Miami
Dec. 24 – vs. Denver
Jan. 1 – @ New England

Tennessee (3 home, 4 away, .470 winning percentage of remaining games)
Nov. 20 – @ Atlanta
Nov. 27 – vs. Tampa Bay
Dec. 4 – @ Buffalo
Dec. 11 – vs. New Orleans
Dec. 19 – @ Indianapolis
Dec. 24 – vs. Jacksonville
Jan. 1 – @ Houston

Overall I think things look pretty good for the Steelers if they take care of business. As of right now I think it would be pretty out of line to suggest that the AFC West will send more than one team as it seems as if nobody wants to win that division and I don’t see the Titans coming and really challenging for a spot with games against Houston, New Orleans, Buffalo and Atlanta coming up plus losing out the tie breaker to the Steelers. That leaves the AFC East to possibly take a wild card spot but I can really only see Buffalo making a push for that and they would have to play some really good football the rest of the way to make this work. That leaves a decent possibility of three teams coming out of the AFC North.

Overall I think New England still has a decent chance to get the top seed in the AFC. Their tough games come against Philadelphia and Buffalo but they have a pretty soft schedule and could get the top spot. The nice thing is that the Steelers have that tie breaker over them which could come in big if the Steelers win the AFC North and finish with a 12-4 mark.

This all is a lot of speculation and a lot of this could go terribly wrong but after starting 2-2 and wondering if they were going to make the playoffs (I wasn’t one of those people but a lot were) we are looking at a real possibility of being the top seed in the AFC if a few games go the Steelers way and they continue to improve. It should be a fun ride the rest of the way with a lot of huge games to watch. Hopefully the Steelers can take care of business and give Heinz Field some games into late January.

What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting analysis. That season closer of Ravens @ Cinci could turn out to be a big game.

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  2. Yea, tough to look into the future that far with how unpredictable things have been. I think it will be intersting to see how Cincy handles being on the road this weekend. Should give us a good look if they are for real or not.

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