Here is a look at some of the Week 15 games that ultimately could impact the Steelers over the final weeks of this 2015 regular season:
SATURDAY NIGHT** NEW YORK JETS (8-5) at DALLAS COWBOYS (4-9)
Jets are second in AFC East
Cowboys are fourth in NFC East
Skinny: Jets are currently on a three-game winning streak, but the Cowboys have won 2 of the last 3 games in this series … During the Jets' winning streak, QB RYAN FITZPATRICK passed for 930 yards with 9 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 111.5 rating. In past 10, DE MUHAMMAD WILKERSON has 10.5 sacks & 2 FF, incl. 3 sacks & FF last week … Dallas LB SEAN LEE had 11 tackles, INT & FR in last game vs. NYJ. Leads team with 105 tackles. Has 12 INTs since entering NFL in 2010, most by LB.
Impact on the Steelers: The Jets don't have to lose any games the rest of this season for the Steelers to make the playoffs, but it wouldn't hurt if they did anyway. If the Steelers, Chiefs, and Jets all win out to finish 11-5 – as unlikely as that seems – the Steelers would win the common games tiebreaker over the Jets. There could be some other factors involved, but right now the deciding factor in the Steelers beating the Jets in the common games tiebreaker are the teams' respective results against Oakland. The Steelers defeated the Raiders, but the Jets lost by two touchdowns in Oakland on Nov. 1.
KANSAS CITY (8-5) at BALTIMORE (4-9)
Chiefs are second in the AFC West
Ravens are third in the AFC North
Skinny: It's now a seven-game winning streak for the Chiefs, and their final three opponents enter this weekend a combined 13-26. The Ravens have won the last three meetings in this series, and Coach John Harbaugh is undefeated vs. Kansas City. Kansas City is 1 of 2 teams in NFL history to win 7 consecutive games immediately following 5 losses in row (1970 Bengals). Last week, QB ALEX SMITH threw 1st INT after attempting 312 passes without an INT, 2nd-longest streak in NFL history.
Impact on the Steelers: Since there are two Wild Card spots, the Steelers don't have to be overly concerned about the Chiefs, but that has to do with simply qualifying for the postseason. It's also worth remembering that there's more than one round to the playoffs. If the Chiefs win out, the Steelers could enter the playoffs only as the No. 6 seed, which means a game most likely in Denver or in Cincinnati. If the Chiefs lose at least one game and the Steelers are able to enter the playoffs as a No. 5 seed, that would mean a game at Indianapolis or in Houston. The Steelers may not need the Chiefs to lose a regular season game to get into the playoffs, but the Chiefs losing a regular season game could mean a more favorable matchup for the Steelers in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. As strange as it seems to type these words: go, Ravens.
HOUSTON (6-7) at INDIANAPOLIS (6-7)**
Texans are tie-for-first in AFC South
Colts are tied-for-first in AFC South
Skinny: If the Texans win for the first time in franchise history in Indianapolis, they would have the inside track to the division title. Houston's final two games are at Tennessee and vs. Jacksonville. The Colts finish at Miami and then vs. Tennessee. This game – and maybe the champion of the AFC South – could be determined by a game in which the opposing quarterbacks are T.J. Yates for Houston and Charlie Whitehurst for Indianapolis.
Impact on the Steelers: Not much, unless the Steelers are able to get into the playoffs as a No. 5 seed, which would require losses by both the Chiefs and the Jets over the final three weekend of the regular season. It seems a virtual lock that the No. 5 seed will visit the AFC South Division champion, which most likely will be one of these two teams.
BUFFALO (6-7) at WASHINGTON (6-7)
Bills are third in AFC East
Redskins are tied-for-first in NFC East
Skinny: If the Bills lose, and two of the teams within the group of Jets, Steelers, and Chiefs win, then Buffalo would be eliminated from playoff contention because the best it could finish would be 8-8, and New York, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City all would have nine wins … Redskins QB KIRK COUSINS has won 5 of past 6 starts at home. In past 6 at home, has 11 pass TDs, 0 INTs with 118.1 rating & 3 rush TDs. Has 8 pass TDs, 2 INTs & 114.9 rating along with 2 rush TDs in past 5.
Impact on the Steelers: Potential elimination game for the Bills. It's Week 15, and therefore time to start taking out the trash.
CINCINNATI (10-3) at SAN FRANCISCO (4-9)**
Bengals are first in AFC North
49ers are fourth in AFC West
Skinny: By losing to the Steelers, Cincinnati was knocked out of the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and the Bengals have a Monday night game in Denver to close out Week 16. The Bengals will depend on QB A.J. McCarron until Andy Dalton's right thumb heals. In past 11, WR A.J. GREEN has 68 catches for 1,061 yards & 7 TDs, incl. 6 catches for 132 yards & TD last week. Has 4 TDs in past 3 & aims for 4th in row with TD. 1 of 2 players in NFL history with 5 consecutive 1,000-yard rec. seasons to begin career (RANDY MOSS, 6).
Impact on the Steelers: Can the Bengals play poorly enough to blow a two-game lead in the AFC North Division with three games to play? If Cincinnati loses this game, then next week brings a trip to Denver for a Monday night game. This week, Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with a Steelers loss. Cincinnati also clinches a playoff spot with a win, or a Jets loss, or a Chiefs loss. Losing to the 49ers, even in San Francisco, seems to be a tall order, and until that happens it almost has to be assumed the Bengals will win the AFC North. If they lose to the 49ers, then we'll start calculating the other possibilities.