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The Steelers will likely win more playoff tiebreakers in 2023 than they did last year

An article about the Steelers and their postseason tiebreaker challenges may seem like a strange topic to broach right before they play the Packers, a team from the NFC, but that’s kind of the point.

If the Steelers can somehow manage to secure a winning record in 2023–even 9-8–it looks like they’ll be in much better shape if making the postseason comes down to tiebreakers.

Pittsburgh may have finished 9-8 in 2022, but it was a weak 9-8. It’s like the organization signed up for the cheapest 9-8 plan possible, one that didn’t include tiebreaker insurance.

The Steelers basically had no tiebreaker advantages a year ago; they were 3-3 in the division–not bad but not great; they were 5-7 in the AFC–the Chargers, Ravens and Jaguars had better conference marks; and they were on the wrong end of head-to-head tiebreakers with almost every team that was in close proximity to them record-wise–including the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets.

Basically, the 2022 Steelers would have been better off having one of their games end in a tie, like in 2021 when they finished 9-7-1 and clinched the final playoff seed.

In the end, the 2022 Steelers missed the postseason by the slimmest of margins.

It’s shaping up to be a much better finish for the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers in the tiebreaker department.

The Steelers are currently the fifth seed in the AFC with a 5-3 record; they are 2-0 in the AFC North; they are 4-2 in the AFC; and they have wins over the Raiders and Titans, who have records of 4-5 and 3-5, respectively.

Six of Pittsburgh’s last nine games are in conference, so if the team goes 2-1 vs. the NFC and 3-3 vs. the AFC, that’s a 10-7 finish. Would that be good enough for a playoff spot? Three more conference wins would make the Steelers 7-5 in the AFC–conference record is the second wildcard tiebreaker after head-to-head when it comes down to teams from different divisions.

Obviously, the Steelers still have a shot at the division; they currently hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Baltimore thanks to a win at Acrisure Stadium in Week 5. Needless to say, if the division comes down to the final game at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 18, a victory would give Pittsburgh the title–even if that victory led to the same record as the Ravens (head-to-head is the first tiebreaker between divisional opponents). But even if the Ravens won, what would their final record be in the AFC North, and would it be better than Pittsburgh’s? The Ravens are currently tied for the best record in the AFC at 7-2, but they’re also 2-1 in the AFC North.

What about the Browns, who currently hold the sixth spot in the AFC with a 5-3 record? Cleveland is 1-2 in the AFC North and 3-2 in the conference. Let’s say the Browns defeat Pittsburgh in the rematch between the two clubs on November 19. That would negate the head-to-head tiebreaker, but Cleveland would still need a better record in the division in order to finish ahead of the Steelers in the standings. If that tiebreaker is negated, it would come down to record vs. common opponents and then record vs. the AFC.

What about the Bengals, who have gotten healthy lately after a 1-3 start? Cincinnati is also 5-3 and in seventh place in the AFC. Four of the Bengals’ five victories have come over NFC teams, and they’re 1-3 in their own conference. (Remember a year ago when Pittsburgh swept the NFC South?) Cincinnati is also 0-2 in the division. Let’s say Pittsburgh and Cincinnati split their two games down the stretch (not out of the realm of possibility even if the Bengals have the more talented squad), what would the latter’s final record be within the division? What about common opponents? What about that conference record?

There is a long way to go between now and Week 18, and AFC teams outside of the North–including the Bills and Texans (who walloped the Steelers in Week 4)–will likely be in the postseason running at season’s end. Besides that, the Steelers have mucked and ground their way to a 5-3 mark, and they don’t look like they would even be able to beat the eventual SEC champion in a postseason matchup.

To quote the legendary Jim Mora: PLAYOFFS?!? But wouldn’t it be nice if the Steelers made them anyway?

There is a lot to still be determined, but even if the Steelers just tread water over the final nine games, they’d likely have much better tiebreaker insurance than they did a year ago.

Put it this way: A 9-8 record should buy the Steelers a lot more this year than it did in 2022.


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