NFL

NFL playoff picture: Can the Steelers hold off the Chiefs, Ravens and Bills in the second half?

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

The NFL passed the halfway mark of its 2020 season on Sunday. Of the 256 games on its regular-season schedule, 132 are in the books. That milestone can mean only one thing. Yup, it’s time to start planning for the playoffs.

Our weekly playoff picture analysis will look a bit different this year. As you’re probably aware, the NFL expanded its postseason field from 12 to 14 teams as part of negotiations for last spring’s new collective bargaining agreement with players. The change increased the value of the top seed in each conference while devaluing the No. 2 seed, which no longer will receive a first-round bye.

More recently, the NFL has discussed the possibility of further expansion to 16 teams, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, if COVID-19 protocols force the cancelation of a significant number of games over the next two months. It’s wild to think about half the league making the playoffs. For now, we’ll focus on the top seven teams per conference while keeping an eye on any challengers lurking nearby. As always, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) provides critical context. Let’s take a look at the field as it stands.

AFC

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.7%
FPI chances to win division: 75.0%

It would have been very 2020 for the Steelers to upend their undefeated start against the hapless Cowboys, who started their third consecutive game with a different quarterback Sunday. But their comeback victory allowed them to complete a perfect first half of the season and maintain their spot atop the conference.

It’s not entirely clear whether home-field advantage throughout the playoffs will hold the same value as in previous years, given the likelihood of limited or no fans in the stands. But that’s a discussion for December. More immediately, the Steelers hold a two-plus game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North, having already won the teams’ first of two regular-season matchups.

Up next: vs. Bengals

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