Will Andy Dalton's Injury Allow the Steelers to Win the AFC North?
The Week 14 matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed like a game that would mainly affect the AFC's wild card picture.
The Bengals appeared to have both a playoff spot and the AFC North all but wrapped up. Based on our rankings, they had a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs and 98.8% chance of winning the division.
The only question surrounding them was which of the top three seeds they would end up with.
Prior to the Bengals game, the Steelers had won three of their last four games. However, at only 7-5, the Steelers only had a 45.0% chance to make the playoffs with a 1.2% chance to win the division, per our algorithms. While they looked like they were only fighting for a wild card spot, their win over Cincinnati has them potentially looking at making a run for their division.
With the Dalton injury and the Steelers win, just how much did the AFC North landscape change?
Say Goodbye to a Bye
Although the Bengals' loss moves them into a tie for second in the AFC with Denver, the likelihood that they can earn a first round bye is a lot gloomier now.
Without even factoring in the Dalton injury, the Bengals now have a 97.3% chance to win the division, and a 99.76% chance to make the playoffs. Barring an unforeseen historical fall, the Bengals will make the playoffs.
However, there is now a more realistic outside shot at the Bengals missing out on both a first-round bye and a division championship. This year, Dalton is playing his best football, and now the Bengals have to rely on A.J. McCarron to replace him.
Based on our Net Expected Points (NEP), Dalton has the highest Passing NEP per play (0.35) and fifth highest Passing Success Rate (52.75%) out of 40 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs entering Week 14.
McCarron only posted a 1.59 Passing NEP yesterday on 35 drop backs, which comes out to a 0.05 Passing NEP per play. Though a small sample, this is a huge dropoff in efficiency from Dalton and something that must be accounted for as the Bengals finish their season.
The Bengals face two teams ranked in the top-15 Adjusted Defensive NEP, the Broncos and Ravens. They also square off against the 27th-ranked 49ers.
The Bengals need to win two games to guarantee that they win the division, which is far from a lock while McCarron is the starter.
While the Bengals should not be expected to lose out and miss the playoffs, the stranglehold they had on the division no longer exists.
After losing to the Bengals in Week 9, the Steelers owned a record of 4-4. The rough quarterback play during the absence of Ben Roethlisberger jeopardized their playoff hopes.
Since returning, Roethlisberger is playing at an MVP-caliber level, much like Dalton.
The win yesterday now gives the Steelers a 63.58% chance to make the playoffs and a 2.7% chance to win the division.
With Roethlisberger leading this offense, the Steelers are playing some of their best football. Roethlisberger ranks fourth in Passing NEP per play (0.33) and first in Passing Success Rate (53.63%). His success in this manner is amazing as he averages over eight yards per attempt, showing that he is not just dinking and dunking down the field.
While his day against the Bengals was not perfect, this win illustrated the resilience that the Steelers defense has played with lately. The Steelers picked off the Bengals three times, including taking one back for touchdown.
Although the Steelers' defense allowed the Seattle Seahawks to score 39 points and the Oakland Raiders to score 35, they have allowed 20 or fewer points in six of their last nine games.
The Steelers finish with a schedule similar to the Bengals' as they face the Broncos, Ravens, and Browns. However, the big advantage for the Steelers -- over the Bengals in these games -- is that now they have the healthy quarterback.
With a playoff spot now looking more likely than not, the Steelers now have an outside chance at the division title.
They also now have one of the most efficient passers of the 2015 season healthy as the postseason approaches.
Although it is a long shot, there is a very real possibility that the Steelers sneak into playoffs having won the AFC North.