Tim Benz: NFL set itself up for worst nightmare Week 18 tie scenario that could impact Steelers – TribLIVE

Tim Benz: NFL set itself up for worst nightmare Week 18 tie scenario that could impact Steelers – TribLIVE
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As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for their regular-season finale in Baltimore on Sunday, we all know the likelihood of them making the playoffs is slim.

Sure, they could beat the Ravens for a second time this year. Even though the game is on the road and the Steelers are a 5.5-point underdog. Frankly, I think that spread is far too big, and I’m picking the Steelers to win.

However, speaking from a Pittsburgh-homer standpoint, I can’t be as optimistic about the chances of the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars beating the 9-7 Indianapolis Colts. That result needs to occur — along with the Steelers beating the Ravens — for Mike Tomlin’s team to qualify for the postseason.

Since Jacksonville is a 15.5-point underdog, hoping that both results break the Steelers’ way is an incredible long shot.

But if both outcomes should happen, another wrench could get thrown into the works. The Sunday night game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders could result in a tie. If the game ties, that outcome eliminates the Steelers, too.

From a Steelers standpoint, it doesn’t matter who wins. The game just can’t result in a tie. That’s because if either team loses, they will be 9-8. With a win over Baltimore, the Steelers would be a half-game better at 9-7-1. And they’d join the winner of the game in the playoff bracket.

Although, if the Chargers and Raiders tie, that would put both clubs into the playoffs at 9-7-1 because the Colts would have fallen to 9-8 with the loss to Jacksonville. And both teams beat the Steelers head-to-head.

So, to be honest, there would be plenty of reasons for both teams to play for a tie under those circumstances.

As far as seeding goes, if a tie happened, the Chargers would get the better seed because they won the first matchup with the Raiders. Is avoiding the prospect of traveling to any specific venue, or hoping to avoid any specific opponent in the first round, strong enough to avoid a sure thing of qualifying in the first place?

Maybe. But if it’s me, I’d just want to qualify first and worry about the matchups later.

Here’s the problem the NFL created for itself, though. The Chargers and Raiders will have all those answers and time to pour over the permutations before their showdown kicks off because the NFL made the potential huge mistake of flexing that game to the Sunday night slot.

The Steelers-Ravens and Jaguars-Colts games start at 1 p.m. So, the two AFC West teams will have plenty of knowledge as to whether or not a tie would behoove their result.

Bad move by the NFL schedule makers.

They were working under the assumption that Chargers-Raiders would make for great primetime viewing. Traditional rivals. Win and you are in. Loser goes home. Great theater.

Right. So long as the Colts don’t screw it up by losing earlier in the day.

As John Breech of CBS Sports.com pointed out, this situation has happened in soccer games before. In his words, the league created a “worst nightmare” scenario for itself by flexing this game into primetime in the first place. Think about it. Two teams orchestrating a tie over 70 minutes of pre-planned NFL play? That would be an optic disaster and a competitive balance black eye.

To say nothing of the gambling implications. Did I mention yet that the game is being played in Las Vegas?

Breech raised another good point about how the NFL may be tracking that Colts-Jags game at 1 p.m.

“There’s a good chance everyone at NFL headquarters will be hoping the Colts win so they can avoid the potential catastrophe of playing a Sunday night game where the best outcome for both teams is to tie,” Breech said.

Gee, if a few close calls early in that game go in favor of the Colts, I wonder if anyone may bring into question the legitimacy of the officiating after a sentence like that from a prominent national website?

Chargers coach Brandon Staley is already on record saying that his team won’t play for a tie. During an appearance on “The Rich Eisen Show,” Staley said, “I think we all respect the game and the integrity of the game far too much to be complicit in something like that. We’re going to do everything we can do (to) win this game.”

Hmm. OK. Let’s see if “Mr. Go for It on Fourth Down” is perhaps a little more inclined to kick a field goal down three points late if a tie gets him into the playoffs.

The league should reverse course and move this game out of prime time. Why not? The NFL moves games by a matter of full days all the time now. What’s a few hours? Big deal.

Other games could still have playoff implications by nightfall Sunday. Like maybe the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. Granted, none will be assured to carry the drama of Chargers-Raiders if the Colts simply take care of business a few hours earlier.

And what’s the NFL going to do if the game is close late for actual football reasons. What if it just plays out that way?

Is the league going to somehow “force” or “pressure” the teams to avoid tying? How can league officials do that? Then competitive balance comes into play in the other direction. How do you tell a coach to avoid a tie if that’s the best result for his franchise?

(A quick side note: If the Ravens should beat the Steelers, a Chargers-Raiders tie wouldn’t help Baltimore either. The Ravens need to win, have the Colts lose, have the Miami Dolphins lose or tie, and then have the Chargers lose at night to make the playoffs.)

Yeah. I know. For Pittsburghers, spending time worrying about a potential tie is about as remote as worrying about getting hit by a meteor.

Then again, didn’t one just blow up over our heads on New Year’s Day?

I mean, if we are taking the time to consider the Jaguars beating the Colts, maybe we should take a little time to discuss this tie scenario, too.

And meteor insurance.


Listen: Tim Benz and Joe Rutter look at playoff scenarios and the Steelers 2021 finale in Baltimore

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.