For Pittsburgh Steelers fans, the beginning of the 2023 season came with unavoidable stress and the feeling of disappointment in the organization. Following an outstanding preseason performance by Kenny Pickett and company, Pittsburgh failed to keep up the momentum when facing starting competition in the regular season, and we've all been disgusted by the dreadful offensive performances so far.
The good news is that, despite their struggles, the Steelers sat on a 3-2 record following their early Week 6 bye. Regardless of how they have been playing, this gave fans a reason to be optimistic. Entering Week 6, Mike Tomlin's team was in first place in the AFC North. Unfortunately, the results around the AFC this week made the playoff picture murky.
These results certainly did not favor the Steelers, and their reign on top of the division was brief. During the Sunday Morning game -- played in London between the Ravens and Titans -- Baltimore emerged victorious.
This win comes just one week after falling to Pittsburgh. While the Steelers currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Ravens (with one more game played) are a half-game up on Pittsburgh. At 4-2, they have reclaimed first place in the AFC North.
The damage didn't stop here. The Ravens were favored against Tennessee, but there was a legitimate question as to whether or not the Bengals would pull through against the Seattle Seahawks. Though their performance wasn't pretty and Joe Burrow still doesn't look like his former self, Cincinnati pulled through and is firmly back in the thick of things. A loss would have sent them spiraling to a 4-2 record; instead, they are now just a half-game behind the Steelers at 3-3.
Perhaps the most discouraging game for Pittsburgh Steelers fans over the weekend was the contest between the Browns and the 49ers. Tomlin's team was humiliated by the Niners in a 30-7 loss back in Week 1. Though San Francisco was heavy road favorites against the Browns, Cleveland somehow pulled off the win despite PJ Walker starting at quarterback in place of the injured Deshaun Watson.
Now the Browns are 3-2 and have the same record as the Steelers. While Pittsburgh owns the head-to-head tiebreaker at the moment, this was a game that we all chalked up as a loss. Cleveland showed just how legitimate their defense really is on Sunday.
The results on Sunday greatly impacted the standings in the AFC playoff picture. If the season ended today, here would be all seven teams to make the playoffs in the AFC, according to NFL.com:
AFC Playoff Picture Week 6:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (5-1)
2. Miami Dolphins (5-1)
3. Baltimore Ravens (4-2)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-2)
5. Buffalo Bills (4-2)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
7. Cleveland Browns (3-2)
If the 2023 NFL season ended today, the Pittsburgh Steelers would still be a Wild Card team. However, just sitting from their couch at home and not playing this week caused them to fall three spots in the AFC due to the results of other games around the league.
Previously, Pittsburgh was on track to host a playoff game at Acrisure Stadium. But as it stands right now, the Steelers would be going on the road and facing the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs.
This isn't the worst scenario in the world. The Steelers always seem to match up well against Lamar Jackson and company. But a lot can change really quickly. If the Dolphins fell one more spot in the AFC seeding, going on the road to face a Dolphins team averaging over 37 points per game would be a nightmare scenario.
Obviously, there's still plenty of time left this season. If things had swung the other way during their Week 6 bye, they could have gained some headway on their biggest competitors. Instead, the rest of the AFC North went 3-0 during Pittsburgh's off week.
So far, the Steelers have been a pretty bad team on paper. Knowing how tight this AFC playoff race is going to be the rest of the way, they really need to amp it up. Otherwise, even a Wild Card spot might not be attainable.