NEW YORK JETS (10-5) at BUFFALO BILLS (7-8)
Jets are second in the AFC East
Bills are third in the AFC East
Skinny: The Bills have won four straight in this series, and the Jets come in with a five-game winning streak overall. TYROD TAYLOR (100.7) is on pace to join JIM KELLY (101.2 in 1990) as only Bills quarterback with 100 rating in single season. Taylor leads AFC QBs with 517 rush yards … In past 5, Jets QB RYAN FITZPATRICK has passed for 1,525 yards with 13 TDs vs. 1 INT for 106.5 rating. Has career-high 29 TD passes & needs 1 to eclipse VINNY TESTAVERDE (29 in 1998) for single-season club record. Since 2010, WR ERIC DECKER leads AFC WRs with 49 TD rec, incl. GW 6-yarder in OT last week.
Impact on the Steelers: This is it. If the Jets win OR TIE this game, there is nothing the Steelers can do to squeeze into the playoffs. End of story, and then it would be the end of the Steelers’ 2015 season.
* * *
BALTIMORE (5-10) at CINCINNATI (11-4)
Bengals are first in the AFC North
Ravens are third in the AFC North
Skinny: The Ravens have lost 5 of the last 6 in this annual home-and-home series. : Have scored GW points on final play in 4 of 5 wins in 2015. In Ravens debut, QB RYAN MALLETT completed 28 of 41 (68.3 pct.) for career-high 274 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 95 rating … QB ANDY DALTON has been ruled out of this game, but TE TYLER EIFERT is expected to play after returning to practice following a few weeks sidelined with a concussion. In 2 starts, QB A.J. MC CARRON has completed 37 of 56 (66.1 pct.) for 392 yards with 2 TD vs. 0 INTs for 98.2 rating. Aims for 3rd in row with TD & 0 INTs.
Impact on the Steelers: If the Bengals win, and the Broncos lose or tie, Cincinnati would clinch a bye in the first round of the playoffs, which would mean that if the Steelers get into the playoffs, they couldn’t play a Wild Card Round game in Cincinnati. If the Steelers qualify, the Bengals clinch a bye, and the Chiefs defeat the Raiders, it would be Pittsburgh at Kansas City in the first round; if the Steelers qualify, the Bengals clinch a bye, and the Raiders beat the Chiefs, it would be Pittsburgh at Denver in the first round.
* * *
Jaguars are third in the AFC South
Texans are first in the AFC South
Skinny: QB BLAKE BORTLES has club-record 35 TD passes & is 1 of 3 NFL QBs with 35 TDs in season at age 23 or younger (HOFer DAN MARINO, MATTHEW STAFFORD). WR ALLEN ROBINSON is tied for 1st in NFL with single-season club record 14 TD catches. Robinson & WR ALLEN HURNS (10) are 1st Jaguars teammates with 10 TD catches apiece in same season … QB BRIAN HOYER (concussion) may return to the starting lineup. In 2 games with Houston, QB BRANDON WEEDEN has completed 26 of 42 (61.9 pct.) for 305 yards with 3 TDs & 0 INTs for 107.7 rating. Won 1st start with Texans last week.
Impact on the Steelers: The winner of the AFC South is going to enter the playoffs as the No. 4 seed, and since the Steelers cannot be anything except the No. 6 seed if they qualify, Pittsburgh cannot play the AFC South winner in the Wild Card Round. But the Steelers are scheduled to play a 2016 regular season road game vs. the second place team from the AFC South, and so if the Texans defeat the Jaguars, it will be Pittsburgh at Indianapolis in 2016. If the Colts somehow hit the lottery that would get them into the playoffs as the AFC South champion, it would be Pittsburgh at Houston in 2016.
* * *
NEW ENGLAND (12-3) at MIAMI (5-10)
Patriots are first in the AFC East
Dolphins are fourth in the AFC East
Skinny: Patriots have clinched 1st-round bye for 6th consecutive season, longest streak since current playoff format began in 1990. Won 7th consecutive AFC East title, tied for longest streak in history (1973-79 Rams). QB TOM BRADY has won 9 of past 11 vs. Mia & passed for 3,067 yards with 21 TDs vs. 5 INTs for 96.1 rating in those games … WR-PR JARVIS LANDRY leads Miami with club-record 104 catches & is 1 of 4 players in NFL history with 100 catches & PR-TD in same season. DE OLIVIER VERNON has 5 sacks in past 6.
Impact on the Steelers: The Patriots need a win to clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs, and if they lose and the Broncos defeat San Diego, then Denver would have homefield advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. If the Steelers manage to squeeze into the playoffs, and if they would win their Wild Card Round game, they would play at the No. 1 seed in the Divisional Round. That’s New England if the Patriots win, or Denver if the Patriots lose and the Broncos win.
* * *
Chargers are fourth in the AFC West
Broncos are first on the AFC West
Skinny: QB PHILIP RIVERS ranks 2nd in NFL with 4,564 pass yards & is 1st Charger with 3 4,500 yard seasons, surpassing DAN FOUTS (2). LB MELVIN INGRAM has 6.5 sacks & 2 FF in past 6, incl. 1 sack last week. Aims for 3rd in row vs. Broncos with sack … PEYTON MANNING is healthy enough to be in uniform, and will serve as backup to BROCK OSWEILER. Broncos earned 28th OT win last week, most in NFL history. In 9 career meetings, LB VON MILLER has 10 sacks, 3 FF & FR, incl. 2 sacks & FF in last meeting.
Impact on the Steelers: This game has no impact on whether the Steelers make the playoffs, and it might not even have any impact on the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. If the Broncos win, they would clinch the AFC West title and a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed. If the Patriots would lose in Miami, and that was coupled with a Denver win, then the Broncos would be the top seed in the AFC. Also, a Denver win means Pittsburgh would visit Cincinnati in the Wild Card Round should the Steelers qualify for the playoffs.