Updated 3 hours ago
HOUSTON – With a win today at NRG Stadium, the Steelers can look ahead and enjoy a week off in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.
Thanks to Jacksonville’s loss to San Francisco, the Steelers need to win one of their final two games to get a first-round bye. A win over the Houston Texans also would keep alive the slim hopes of the Steelers getting home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in January.
The first part of the equation should be a no-brainer, with the Steelers hosting the 0-15 Cleveland Browns in the finale. The second part is the problem. It would require the New England Patriots to lay an egg on New Year’s Eve at home against the 5-10 New York Jets.
Either way, one more win would give the Steelers a bye in the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.
Even before the ball is kicked off today, the Steelers can do some other kind of looking ahead -– to next year’s schedule.
The Steelers might not get a chance to play the Patriots again this year at Heinz Field, but they are assured of a third consecutive regular-season matchup at home. In 2018, the Patriots are one of five known non-divisional opponents on the home schedule. The others are Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, Atlanta and Carolina. On the road, the Steelers will play at Denver, Oakland, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.
The road portion became official Sunday when the Jaguars clinched first place in the AFC South.
Unlike the past two seasons, Steelers fans won’t have the luxury of making a short drive to some of the non-divisional road games. In 2016, road games included trips to Washington, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Buffalo. This year, the road portion included games at Indianapolis, Detroit and Chicago.
Next year, even the most ardent road warriors will have to buy a plane ticket to watch the Steelers play any of their five non-divisional opponents.