Steelers playoff picture: Breaking down Pittsburgh’s seeding scenarios in NFL bracket

The Steelers can improve their playoff seeding in Week 17, but they’ll have to do so without Ben Roethlisberger. 

Pittsburgh (12-3) coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday that Roethlisberger would rest Sunday in favor of backup quarterback Mason Rudolph. The Steelers play the Browns a week after Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North division title, with the Steelers entering the day as the No. 3 seed in the AFC. The most Pittsburgh can do is move up to No. 2, and it can’t fall below No. 3.

Tomlin suggested that most players would get their usual workload but that Roethlisberger would be “airmailed” to the playoffs. It’s a huge game for Cleveland, too, which can secure its first postseason berth since 2002 with a win.

Here’s how Pittsburgh can end up as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the AFC based on Week 17 results.

How Steelers can get No. 2 seed in AFC

The Steelers can only be the No. 2 seed in the AFC in one scenario: The Bills (12-3) lose and the Steelers win. Buffalo is taking on Miami and enters Sunday as the No. 2 seed in the AFC with an equal record to Pittsburgh. The Bills hold the tiebreaker after beating the Steelers earlier this season.

So in order to finish ahead of Buffalo, Pittsburgh needs a better result than the Bills (that would also technically include a Buffalo tie). The Steelers finishing at 13-3 while the Bills finish at 12-4 would give Pittsburgh the No. 2 seed.

With the No. 2 seed would come two home games in the playoffs for the Steelers (assuming that they win in the first round). In past years, it equaled a first-round bye, but the expansion of the playoffs to seven teams from each conference means that only the Chiefs get an AFC bye this year as the top seed. 

How Steelers can get No. 3 seed in AFC

There are two main ways this can happen. The first is a Steelers loss. No matter what Buffalo does, if Pittsburgh loses it won’t surpass the Bills in win total, so Buffalo would maintain the No. 2 position. A loss wouldn’t drop the Steelers below No. 3 because no other AFC team can reach the 12-win mark that the top three AFC teams already have.

The Steelers also end up as the No. 3 seed in the AFC if Buffalo wins. Even if Pittsburgh wins, too, it’ll still lose the tiebreaker to the Bills as they both finish with 13-3 records. And if both teams tied, that would also result in the No. 2 Bills and No. 3 Steelers. 

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