The final playoff spot in the AFC is shaping up as a dogfight.
The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly blew their edge in the race on Sunday.
The Steelers entered Sunday with a leg up on No. 6 seed over the Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns.
A curious fake punt late on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals almost cost them that edge.
The decision came with the Steelers leading, 20-10 with 8:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Bad decision, worse execution
Punter Jordan Berry took the snap from the Steelers 40-yard line in what seemed an obvious punt situation.
But punt he did not. Berry held the ball out for a moment as if he were going to punt it before tucking it and running directly into a pair of Cardinals defenders who leveled him and forced a fumble.
Our fake punt > Their fake punt pic.twitter.com/yY0gxkFGHN— Arizona Cardinals ⋈ (@AZCardinals) December 8, 2019
The Cardinals immediately made the Steelers pay when Kyler Murray found David Johnson for a 24-yard touchdown pass three plays later to cut their deficit to 20-17.
Arizona had a chance to drive late for the win after receiving a kickoff with 1:42 remaining following a Steelers field goal to go up, 23-17. But the Steelers defense sealed the victory with a pair of sacks that ultimately led to a four-and-out to end the game.
Steelers keep slim edge in playoff race
The unnecessary failed gamble didn’t end up costing the Steelers, who improved to 8-5 to maintain their lead in the playoff push.
It was the third straight game with Devlin Hodges replacing Mason Rudolph at quarterback and the third straight win for the Steelers since the disaster in Cleveland that saw Myles Garrett swing a helmet at Rudolph’s head.
Tannehill, Titans keep pace
The Titans, who are also thriving behind a quarterback change with the resurgence of Ryan Tannehill, kept pace in the standings with a 42-21 drubbing of the Raiders to improve to 8-5.
But thanks to a better conference record, the Steelers maintain the tiebreaker.
Bad news for Browns, Colts, Raiders
The loss in that game dropped the Raiders to 6-7 and a very long shot to earn a playoff berth. The Colts’ hopes also fell off a cliff thanks to a 38-35 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Meanwhile, the Browns defeated the Bengals to improve to 6-7 and keep their slim playoff hopes intact.
Titans could also win AFC South
Right now it’s shaping up to be a two-team race between the Steelers and Titans, who could also earn a playoff berth by surpassing the Houston Texans in the AFC South. The Texans dropped to 8-5 with a stunning loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday, but have the tiebreaker edge in the division over Tennessee.
The Titans and Texans play each other twice in the remaining three weeks of the season (Week 15 and Week 17) in matchups with massive playoff implications.
But for now, the Steelers maintain control of their own path. If they win out, they’re in. But it won’t be easy with games against the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens remaining.
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