How the Steelers can move up to the No. 7 seed – by losing

The Pittsburgh Steelers probably need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs. But even with a Week 17 loss, they could move up to the No. 7 seed.

Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

Coming off of a Week 16 upset victory at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers are sitting at 8-7 with a matchup in Seattle against the Seahawks next up on the schedule.

The Steelers are currently locked in a four-way AFC Wild Card tie with the Indianapolis Colts, the Houston Texans, and the Bengals. The tiebreaker gives the Colts the provisional No. 7 seed, ahead of the Texans on the outside looking in at No. 8, the Steelers at No. 9, and the Bengals at No. 10.

Yet the Steelers could go into Seattle and lose and still move up to the No. 7 seed – inside the provisional playoff picture – by the time Week 17 comes to a conclusion. And believe it or not, it’s not all that far-fetched, either.

How the Steelers can move up two spots with a loss

A loss drops the Steelers to 8-8. If the Colts lose to the Las Vegas Raiders, both of those teams will also be 8-8. If the Texans lose to the Tennessee Titans, they will be 8-8 as well, and if the Bengals lose to the Kansas City Chiefs, they too will be sitting at .500.

The Steelers may not own the tiebreaker over the Colts and Texans now, but throw the Raiders into the mix, and they come out on top.

The first thing that is looked at in a multi-way Wild Card tiebreaker is divisions. The Steelers swept the Bengals, and the Colts beat the Texans head-to-head. It would not matter if the Denver Broncos move to 8-8 with a win over the Los Angeles Chargers, as the Raiders would still own the head-to-head tiebreaker in the AFC West.

That effectively creates a tiebreaker situation involving only the Steelers, Colts, and Raiders. The Steelers beat the Raiders, who would have beaten the Colts, who beat the Steelers. So that doesn’t help decide anything. All three would then have 6-5 AFC records, so that doesn't help decide anything either. 

The decisive factor would be strength of victory, which the Steelers comfortably control over both the Colts and the Raiders.

How likely is this crazy scenario to unfold in Week 17?

All things considered, it's probably not as unlikely as you might think. First of all, the Steelers are underdogs against the Seahawks, whose homefield advantage remains about as strong as anybody’s. The Colts are slight favorites over the Raiders, but based on how both teams played last week, a Raiders upset would surprise nobody. 

The Texans are considerable favorites over the Titans, but quarterback C.J. Stroud still might not be at 100%. Even with him in the lineup, Houston has been upset by both the Carolina Panthers and the New York Jets this year, so a Texans win is far from a sure thing. Finally, the Chiefs are heavy favorites over the Bengals.

The fact that this is even possible just about sums up the Steelers’ 2023 season. For the better part of the year, they have simply not looked like a good football team, yet no matter what happens, they always seem to hang around the playoff picture. It’s almost exactly how they managed to sneak into the postseason back in 2021.

One thing to keep in mind about this scenario is that even though it would move the Steelers up to the No. 7 seed, it would not put them in position to control their own destiny in Week 18 with a win against the Baltimore Ravens.

It would all depend on the teams with which they are tied at 9-8 and what tiebreaking procedures go into effect. If it’s just the Texans and Steelers at 9-8, for instance, then the Texans would get the tiebreaker due to their head-to-head win.

So the simplest path for the Steelers to get into the postseason is still to win out, and even at 10-7, they'll need quite a bit of help along the way to make it happen.