Why are the Steelers seeded so far ahead of the Texans?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-5. The Houston Texans are 7-5. How are the Texans, who dismantled the Steelers earlier in the year, seeded three spots lower?

Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers / Logan Riely/GettyImages

All of the flaws that made the Pittsburgh Steelers statistically one of the worst 7-4 teams in NFL history finally bit them in the loss column in an ugly home game against what was a two-win Arizona Cardinals team that entered as a touchdown underdog.

Without former offensive coordinator Matt Canada to blame this time around, the reality finally set in that this is a team in need of some major improvements across the board, a reality that was actually fairly obvious after pundits inexplicably viewed their single-touchdown, 16-point performance against the Cincinnati Bengals as an “offensive explosion”.

The team was dealt even worse news when it was revealed that quarterback Kenny Pickett will be sidelined for a number of weeks with an ankle injury.

But they did get a dose of good news as well, because the Cleveland Browns lost to the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, the Steelers were able to remain in second place in the AFC North behind the Baltimore Ravens, whom they somehow managed to defeat back in October.

But there are now four 7-5 teams tied in the battle for the three AFC wild card spots, as the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans both won on Sunday afternoon.

The Texans already faced the Steelers this season, and it was never a game

The C.J. Stroud-led team scored a massive 30-6 home victory, their first against Pittsburgh since 2011.

So with both teams sitting at 7-5, neither team leading their division, and the Texans owning the head-to-head tiebreaker, why is Pittsburgh seeded as the top wild card with Houston on the outside looking in – three spots lower?

When it comes down to a tiebreaker featuring more than two teams, it’s not as simple as head-to-head. Ties are first broken within the division, and the Steelers have that over the Browns due to having a better divisional record (the two teams beat each other once). The Colts have it over the Texans due to a head-to-head victory.

So for the provisional No. 5 seed, the battle comes down to the Steelers and Colts, and that currently goes to the Steelers on best win percentage in common games. 

For the No. 6 seed, it comes down to the Browns and the Colts, and the Browns beat the Colts head-to-head. For the No. 7 seed, it comes down to the Colts and the Texans, and the Colts beat the Texans head-to-head.

Is it fair? Probably not, but there is no way to make it totally fair when there are so many teams involved in a tie and several haven’t played each other. The good thing in this scenario is that the teams in this group that haven’t yet played each other still do, so things should sort themselves out.

The Steelers have a road date against the Colts on Saturday, December 16, while the Texans are scheduled to host the Browns on Sunday, December 24. The Texans also close out the regular season with what could be a crucial road matchup against the Colts on Sunday, January 7.

Still, there is no guarantee that the AFC won't end up in a situation where a tiebreaker is needed at the end of the season, in which case it’s important to understand just how certain ties are broken.