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Steelers Playoff Scenarios: What Needs to Happen in Week 18



New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) throws against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

For the Pittsburgh Steelers and their 2022 NFL playoff hopes, it’s three down and three to go. 

The Steelers essentially needed six things to all happen entering Week 17, and they went three for three, with the Steelers beating the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins losing to the New England Patriots and the New York Jets falling to the Seattle Seahawks.

Now there will be three more to go in Week 18, and the postponement of Monday night’s game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills after the collapse and hospitalization of former Pitt defensive back Damar Hamlin. 

Here’s exactly what the Steelers need to happen to make the playoffs in Week 18.

Instead of last week’s day-long watch party, all three games that contain the Steelers playoff hopes will be taking place at exactly the same time this Sunday, so get your picture-in-picture and your second screens ready.

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Steelers Browns AFC North

Ed Thompson

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers 

Pittsburgh WIN or TIE: The Steelers can take care of their own business by beating the Browns or just finding a way to avoid a loss, as a tie will be almost as good here as a win. But if the Steelers tie, they cannot survive a tie in either of the other two games.

With the games all ending at about the same time, the order of operations is tough to nail down, but suffice to say that taking care of their own business on their home field is job No. 1 for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh LOSS: The Steelers are eliminated.

What the bookies say: The Steelers are 2.5-point favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook, and the Steelers have done well as favorites, winning (and covering the spread) three of the four times they’ve been considered the better bet.

History: The Browns won the opener between these teams in Week 3, but that’s likely as far as it is to go. Cleveland hasn’t swept the seasons series since 1988 and hasn’t won a regular season game in Pittsburgh since 2003.


Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel watches a replay during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Miami Gardens. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee )

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins 

Dolphins LOSS: This is shaping up to be the most difficult leg of the Steelers’ three-legged race to the playoffs, as Miami is a heavy favorite, despite uncertainty at quarterback. But if the Jets pull off the win, the Steelers essentially become a coin-flip pick to make it to the postseason.

Dolphins WIN: The Steelers are eliminated.

Dolphins TIE: A Dolphins and Jets tie is OK for the Steelers as long as there isn’t another one. A Dolphins tie combine with a Steelers win and Patriots loss puts Pittsburgh in the playoffs. But a Miami tie along with a Steelers tie would send the Dolphins to the postseason.

What the bookies say: The Dolphins opened as four-point favorites in this game, but that line is rapidly moving toward the Jets due to uncertainty with Miami’s quarterback situation. Starter Tua Tagovailoa remains in the NFL concussion protocol and backup Teddy Bridgewater has a broken finger in his throwing hand. Rookie Skylar Thompson out of Kansas State finished Miami’s Week 17 loss to the Patriots and appears to be in line to make his first career start against the Jets.

Jets quarterback Mike White had a woeful 47.4 passer rating in his return from injury in last week’s loss to the Seahawks, but might end up being the best quarterback in this game. The current line at DraftKings is Dolphins -1.

History: The Jets won the first game at the Meadowlands, 40-17, so New York is going for its first season sweep of the Dolphins since 2015. That was also the last time the Jets were victorious in Miami.

Buffalo Bills Josh Allen

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

Patriots LOSS: Combined with Steelers and Jets wins, a Patriots loss would put the Steelers into the playoffs. The fact that the Bills’ Week 17 game was suspended after the collapse and hospitalization of Damar Hamlin doesn’t carry any bearing in the Steelers’ playoff math. 

But it definitely could be a factor in Buffalo’s motivation for this game. The Bills have locked up the AFC East, but the lone AFC bye is very much still up for grabs. Buffalo could lock it down with a win and Kansas City and Cincinnati losses, and make replaying the Bengals game unnecessary.

Patriots TIE: A tie in this game is almost as good as a Buffalo win for the Steelers, with the caveat that the Steelers are eliminated if both they and the Patriots both tie. The Steelers can survive a Pats tie combined with a Miami-New York tie.

Patriots WIN: The Steelers are eliminated. If for some reason Buffalo chooses to forfeit the game, it will count as a 1-0 Patriots victory.

What the bookies say: DraftKings has taken this game off the board, given the uncertainty surrounding the entire Buffalo team at this point. Where you can still find a line, it ranges from Buffalo -7.5 to Buffalo -4.5. Clearly the Bills are the better team here, but it’s not clear at all whether this game will be played and how invested the Bills will be in it if it is. 

History: The Bills won the first matchup between the teams in Foxborough and have won four of the last five overall, including a 47-17 trouncing in last year’s playoffs. That’s a stark difference compared to the 2000s and 2010s, when the Patriots won 35 of 40 games.