Many people weren’t sure where the Pittsburgh Steelers were heading after their two-year playoff hiatus during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. That all changed in 2014 with the emergence of Pro Bowl running back Le'veon Bell and the dominance of wide receiver Antonio Brown. After being a defensive-driven team for most of the franchise’s history, the squad has taken over a different identity as the offense has become an explosive force to be reckoned with. Even though they’ve had a huge resurgence, the team has not made a Super Bowl appearance since 2010, despite having players like Hines Ward and Ryan Clark on the roster. Can this season spell a different fate for the black and yellow and their faithful?
Pittsburgh yields an 11-2 record that ranks first in the AFC and tied for first in the league (Philadelphia Eagles also being 11-2). Although many expected their offense to carry the team again, the Steelers defense has stepped up and helped balance the team’s success. General Manager Kevin Colbert made it a point to build the front seven and the secondary this past offseason, drafting linebacker TJ Watt and signing Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. These additions turned a decent core into a top ten defense within a year. This turnaround was obvious to see when Pittsburgh took on the Detroit Lions in week 8 on Sunday Night Football. The offense put up an efficient 20 points, but the key to their win was their defense shutting down Matt Stafford’s high-powered offense in the red zone. Detroit was held to five field goals as the team was held out of the end zone through four quarters.
Along with an improved defense, the Steelers have also become clutch in crunch time. Pittsburgh has either trailed or has been tied in the fourth quarter of their past three games, yet they’ve found a way to come out on top every time. The most impressive comeback win came against the Baltimore Ravens this past week, when the team was down nine points with under seven minutes left in the game. Even kicker Chris Boswell has been playing at a high level, booting four game-winning field goals this year.
Even though it seems the Steelers have checked all the boxes to get a Super Bowl ring, there’s one crucial bridge they’ve yet to cross. The New England Patriots have haunted Pittsburgh in recent memory, as the teams have faced off five times since the 2013 season, with New England winning every game. The stakes were at their highest in last year’s AFC Championship, but the Steelers were outcoached and outplayed as they lost 36-17 to end their 2016 campaign. This Sunday, the teams square off again at Heinz Field in a game that will ultimately decide the seeding of the AFC playoff picture. If Pittsburgh wins, they clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, a feat they haven’t accomplished since their 2010 Super Bowl campaign.
Since this is their best record through 14 weeks in the past five seasons, the Steelers know this is a special roster that could possibly allow them to slip by the Patriots and in Minnesota for Super Bowl 52.