NFL Playoff Picture: How Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers Can Clinch an AFC Wild Card Berth in Week 18

Somehow, someway, Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers are still alive and pursuing a spot in the 2021 NFL Playoffs.

If Steelers fans wanted good news, there you go. As for the bad news, Roethlisberger and teammates require plenty of help in Week 18 to secure a second straight postseason berth.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers need a win and help to reach the 2021 NFL Playoffs

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and teammates in 2021.
With a win and some help in Week 18, Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers will clinch a spot in the 2021 NFL Playoffs | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers only have a single playoff-clinching scenario in Week 18, and it’s a doozy. First, the 8-7-1 Steelers must defeat the decimated Baltimore Ravens on the road; the Ravens, who also are still barely alive in the playoff hunt, have lost five straight and are expected to be without star quarterback Lamar Jackson yet again.

However, a Steelers victory won’t be enough. Pittsburgh also needs the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars to shock the Indianapolis Colts at home. If that happens, the Steelers are in, so long as the Sunday night showdown between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders doesn’t end in a tie.

If those three events happen, the Steelers will reach the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. There is no way for Pittsburgh to earn either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed.

Pittsburgh is arguably only still alive because of its thrilling victory over Baltimore in December

Don’t let traditional narratives fool you into thinking only some games matter. The truth is that every game, whether it’s in the NFL’s 17-game campaign or Major League Baseball’s 162, matters when all is said and done. New York Mets fans will happily attest to a seemingly meaningless loss in May coming back to haunt them in the final standings.

Technically, the Steelers are still alive because they defeated Baker Mayfield and the Browns in Week 17. However, let’s not forget what happened when Baltimore and Pittsburgh clashed on Dec. 5.

Over a month ago, Jackson connected with veteran receiver Sammy Watkins on a six-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left. Rather than ask All-Pro kicker Justin Tucker to convert the 35-yard extra point and tie the game at 20, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh went for two.

Jackson overthrew star tight end Mark Andrews on the conversion, and the Steelers won, 20-19. Harbaugh defended his decision because injuries had depleted the Ravens’ secondary, especially after shutdown cornerback Marlon Humphrey left the game with a right pectoral muscle tear.

Which teams could the Steelers face in the AFC Wild Card Round?


NFL Playoff Picture: When Did the New England Patriots Last Make the Postseason as a Wild Card Team?

If the Steelers reach the 2021 NFL Playoffs, they’ll do so as the No. 7 seed and face whoever wins the No. 2 seed. The Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, and Tennessee Titans all entered Week 18 with a chance at being the second seed.

This year’s Steelers are familiar with most of those teams. Pittsburgh began the 2021 season with a surprising 23-16 victory over Josh Allen and the Bills in Week 1. Nearly four months later, Allen and teammates enter Week 18 with a chance at finally locking up the AFC East.

Cincinnati swept the Steelers and outscored them 65-20. Kansas City routed the Steelers, 36-10, on Dec. 26.

Pittsburgh defeated the Titans, 19-13, on Dec. 19 despite only totaling 168 yards of total offense. The Steelers did not face the Patriots this season.

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