After a Brutal Sunday Performance, Are the Steelers Done For?

Ben Roethlisberger played the worst game of his season on Sunday. Are the Steelers now doomed?

You don't want to face Pittsburgh in the playoffs.

That is, of course, if the Steelers make the playoffs.

It was assumed the Steelers were going to be dancing in January. After all, a Week 15 comeback victory against Denver meant all the Steelers had to do was beat the Ravens and Browns, two teams ranking in the bottom seven of our analytically-driven power rankings.

But it's the NFL, and no game is a cakewalk.

Ben Roethlisberger picked the worst time imaginable to play his worst game of the season. And it was, both objectively and with the naked eye, Big Ben's worst contest of 2015. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Roethlisberger accumulated -7.40 Passing Net Expected Points on Sunday. The only other time Roethlisberger hit a negative Passing NEP total was against Cincinnati, where he passed to a -4.80 mark. And that was coming off of a big injury against a much better secondary (10th ranked versus 20th ranked).

If you're newer to NEP, you may not know that, because passing is more efficient than rushing, a negative score isn't simply "below expectation." It is when compared to rushing, yes, but the majority of quarterbacks have positive Passing NEP per drop back averages this season. So totaling a -7.40 score is even worse than a little over a touchdown below expectation. 

Roethlisberger isn't the only one to blame for Sunday's loss, though, as the Steelers secondary allowed Ryan Mallett to post a 12.33 Passing NEP total. In other words, the difference in quarterback play -- through the air -- in the Steelers-Ravens tilt was roughly 20 points, which more than makes up the difference in the final 20-17 score. 

The loss for the Steelers was devastating, and it was made even worse when, just minutes after, the Patriots ended up losing to the Jets -- New York is fighting Pittsburgh for a playoff spot. 

Now, the most reasonable scenario for the Steelers to make the playoffs is a win in Week 17 against Cleveland and a loss for the Jets. New York, if you're unaware, is facing Buffalo, an average squad according to our numbers.

As it stands, though, our analytics are giving the Steelers a 41.19% chance to make the playoffs, thanks to an easy matchup on Sunday and a moderately tough one for the Jets. Chances are, though, Pittsburgh will be on the outside looking in this January.