AFC North Playoff Race - Pittsburgh In Precarious Position

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Jay Ginsbach

December 5th, 2018

The push towards the NFL playoffs continues into Week 14, and the AFC North playoff race tightened up on top after the Steelers let a 23-7 late 3rd quarter lead get away in a last-second home loss to the LA Chargers, 33-30. Combined with the Baltimore’s road win at Atlanta 26-16 for the Ravens 3rd straight win, and the AFC North is a tight two team race again with four games remaining.

Remaining Schedules for AFC North Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) – at Oakland, New England, at New Orleans, Cincinnati Baltimore Ravens (7-5) – at Kansas City, Tampa Bay, at LA Chargers, Cleveland Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) – less than 1% chance to make the playoffs Cleveland Browns (4-7-1) – less than 1% chance to make the playoffs

The Steelers and Ravens split the season series with each team winning on the road. Pittsburgh’s tie in Week 1 at Cleveland makes it very unlikely the two teams will tie for the AFC North title.

The website FiveThirtyEight.com lists the Steelers playoff chances at 84% and a 71% chance to win the division. The Ravens' playoff chances are 65% and division title 29% as they chase down their rival in the AFC North playoff race with a tougher schedule ahead.

A Steelers division title likely gets them the No. 4 playoff seed in the AFC and staring at a rematch at home with either the LA Chargers or Kansas City Chiefs, who both beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh this season.

Pittsburgh’s back-to-back losses in Weeks 12 and 13 has cost them a chance at a top-2 seed and 1st round bye in the AFC, as FiveThirdyEight lists the Steelers chances of a first round bye at 4% with the Chiefs (10-2), Patriots (9-3) and Texans (9-3) leading the other divisions and clear of the Steelers.

Baltimore is currently the No. 2 wild card behind the LA Chargers (9-3), but there are four teams at 6-6 in the chase for the second and final wild card spot: Indianapolis (10%), Tennessee (19%), Miami (7%) and Denver (21%), and the Broncos are given the best chance to still make the playoffs by FiveThirtyEight based on remaining schedules.

Pittsburgh will be a double-digit favorite against both the Raiders and Bengals, and two wins in their remaining four games will force the Ravens to win at least three games to overtake them and win the AFC North. The Ravens will be at least a 7-point home favorite over Tampa Bay and Cleveland, but a 7-point underdog this week at Kansas City and 4-6-point underdog at Los Angeles pending the teams results the next two weeks.

What might give the Baltimore Ravens life in the AFC North playoff race is the sudden emergence of Lamar Jackson, and his incredible ability to maintain drives with his feet. Pittsburgh just lost James Conner to a high ankle sprain as well, but the Ravens have a tougher slate with Kansas City, Tampa Bay and the Chargers in the next three weeks. Cleveland will also be playing for a moral victory in Week 17.

The oddsmakers remain confident that the Steelers can maintain their advantage int he AFC North playoff race, giving the Steelers -280 odds to win the division against the Ravens at +200.

Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.