NFL Playoffs 2019: Are Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks phony?

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 15: Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 during the second half against the Buffalo Bills in the game at Heinz Field on December 15, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 15: Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 during the second half against the Buffalo Bills in the game at Heinz Field on December 15, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Playoff teams normally dominate over a season, meaning great point differentials. But the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks are anomalies of the NFL Playoffs. Are they phony?

Through 15 weeks of the NFL season, and after dueling losses on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers have nearly identical point differentials on the season, at +10 and +9 respectively. Nothing else about their résumés has been even remotely similar.

In the NFC, the point differential pairing that caught our eye is the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, both coming off wins on Sunday. Both teams are fighting for a bye with an 11-3 record. The Packers, though, have almost doubled Seattle’s point differential.

Seattle is the playoff imposter, right? The Seahawks are the squad to bet against in the Divisional Round even coming off a potential bye, right?

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As most playoff teams dominate their competition, we can identify the phony teams in the 2019 NFL Playoffs chase. The point differential stands out. Are the Steelers and Seahawks legit?

Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem, debate the NFL Playoffs 2019 in today’s NFL Sports Debate.

Todd Salem:

In terms of the Steelers and Chargers, Pittsburgh is 8-6 and tied for the second Wild Card in the AFC. The Steelers are a reasonable 6-4 in one-score games, including a one-score win over Los Angeles. Los Angeles is 5-9 and tied for last place in the AFC West. The Chargers are 2-8 in one-score games. By the way, the Oakland Raiders, a full game ahead of the Chargers in the West, have a point differential of -112 through 15 weeks.

If this wasn’t an annual pattern with Los Angeles, through multiple coaching changes, I would point out how records in one-score games tend to normalize over time. The Chargers’ never normalizes. But this isn’t about the Chargers, in this case. It is about Pittsburgh. The Steelers feel like a phony playoff contender, even as they remain tied for a playoff spot.

Playing behind a third-string quarterback will do that to a team. But they are also not playing at a playoff level. The point differential points to this. So does the fact that they are 0-5 against playoff teams and 8-1 against non-playoff teams through 14 games. If that follows course the remainder of the season, they will wrap at 9-7. But they could catch an even bigger break.

With a Week 17 trip to Baltimore, the Ravens have already announced that they will sit Lamar Jackson if there is nothing to play for. Pittsburgh will certainly have something to play for, and it will fall in their lap.

In the NFC playoff race, Seattle has needed overtime twice for victories. It is 8-2 overall in one-score games. The low point differential backs all this up. Having an MVP candidate at quarterback helps in close and late situations, but that still isn’t a sustainable way to win.

What’s left out is how much more difficult Seattle’s schedule has been than Green Bay’s. In fact, Seattle has played the hardest schedule of any playoff team in either conference (tied with Kansas City). It’s not just that the Packers lack wins over playoff contenders. They’ve only even faced four teams who are going to play in the postseason.

Statistically, the case for Seattle is even better. The Seahawks and Packers have similar blueprints for success: a great offense with a lacking defense that can allow opponents to come back or keep things close. Heading into Week 15, Seattle had the better offense and the better defense. The blueprint may be the same, but one team is better than the other at executing it.

Dan Salem:

It’s odd to call playoff teams phony, but point differential does not lie. The Steelers are not a very good football team, yet could make the playoffs regardless because Tennessee is stumbling in spite of a +60 point differential. The Titans are better, but it might not matter. Pittsburgh must survive the Jets and Ravens games. No easy task for a mediocre team.

I believe the Steelers are phony, but not Seattle. The phony NFC team is in the NFC East, while the Seahawks are continuing to overachieve and win football games. Green Bay is not truly phony either but is certainly a step below Seattle right now. I don’t like the way in which the Packers have lost, while Seattle was defeated by two of the best teams in the sport, New Orleans and Baltimore, as well as a surging Rams team.

Since we are debating point differential, is there any team phonier than the Dallas Cowboys? Generally speaking, 7-7 football teams do not have +90 point differentials. The Cowboys have looked awful at multiple times this season, but another blowout victory in Week 15 vaulted their record to .500 and shot up their point differential.

Besides the Jets and Bears, every other Dallas loss was to a playoff team. Yet they’ve only beaten one team with a winning record, and that literally just happened in Week 15 against a middle of the road Rams team.

A victory over Philadelphia practically secures the Cowboys a division title, but it’s hard to believe in America’s team when their wins column is filled with teams that represent a who’s who of the upcoming Top 10 in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Back to our original outliers, my instincts tell me that Pittsburgh ultimately misses the playoffs. I believe Tennessee finds a way to get in, while the Steelers do not win their last two games. Maybe one of them, but not both. Seattle is in a fine position at the moment and will enter the playoffs about to face an inferior team. They are really good, even if their point differential tries to say otherwise.