The history of the Steelers and making the playoffs includes some famous years when they somehow managed to beat the odds and got in after winning their final regular-season game and also getting some outside help.
The 1989 Steelers obviously the most famous example, the Immaculate Reception (if you will) of times that Pittsburgh needed multiple things to fall its way on the final week of the regular season in order to punch its postseason ticket.
The 1993 Steelers are an underrated example, perhaps because, unlike Chuck Noll’s Cinderella Steelers from a few years earlier, Bill Cowher’s boys, a more talented team that actually underachieved in ’93, didn’t manage to win a playoff game after a few things fell into place which allowed them to sneak into the postseason as the sixth seed in the AFC.
Of course there’s the case of the 2005 Steelers, who also needed help to make the playoffs. They not only got that help (by the final week they were in a “win and we’re in” situation), but won Super Bowl XL, playing all of their games on the road.
There were other times prior to the 2010s when the Steelers went into the final week of the regular season facing a “win-and-need-help” scenario in order to advance into the postseason but did not get the assistance they were looking for.
- The 2000 Steelers comes to mind.
The Steelers still had a shot at the playoffs by the time their game against the Chargers kicked off at 4 p.m. out on the West Coast.
However, unfortunately for the Black and Gold the Colts, a team also interested in making the playoffs, did them no favors, as they beat up on a Vikings squad that already had its playoff seed wrapped up and had nothing to play for.
The Vikings, actually gave the Colts a run for their money. But then during the game, starter Daunte Culpepper got nicked, and head coach wasted little time putting his starter on ice until the playoffs. Culpepper’s backup was none other than Bubby Brister, who in his final game as a pro, once again kept the Steelers out of the playoffs.
The Steelers didn’t face another such scenario until 2009, the year in which head coach Mike Tomlin said his struggling team would unleash hell in December. Pittsburgh did eventually get around to raising some hell but not before putting its playoff fate in the hands of other devils in the AFC, including Tomlin’s colleagues, Jim Caldwell and Bill Belichick, who chose to rest their starters against teams who were fighting the Steelers for the final wildcard spots in the AFC.
Anyway, it used to be quite rare for the Steelers to go into their final regular-season game needing to win and get some help in order to make the postseason. But while I could only come up with five examples between 1989 and 2009, it’s now a common occurrence for Pittsburgh to head into the final week with its playoff hopes resting firmly in the arms of other teams that may or may not have anything to play for.
The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers head into Week 18 needing to defeat the Browns at Acrisure Stadium this Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. While that is hopefully taking place, the Dolphins, a team that’s lost five games in a row but is still alive for the playoffs, needs to lose at home to the Jets, a team that has lost five games in a row and is no longer alive for the playoffs.
Also, the Bills, a team that may or may not still be vying for the top seed at kickoff, needs to defeat the Patriots, a squad that’s still alive for the playoffs, at home.
- I actually give the Steelers more than a puncher’s chance.
Why? Because these things tend to even out over time. Or, at least I’d like to think so. You see, this will be the sixth time the Steelers have faced this exact scenario since 2013, and the Steelers have a “record” of 2-3.
So even though the Steelers beat the odds as recently as 2021 when the downtrodden Jaguars took out a Colts team that controlled its own destiny, I’d say they’re still due to even their “record” at 3-3.
Over the past 10 seasons, the Steelers have been let down by Ryan Succop (2013) and propped up by Sexy Rex Ryan (2015).
They have also been disappointed in Baker Mayfield (2018) and the complacent Titans (2019).
No matter how things shake out, it’s just amazing that the Steelers have faced this scenario so many times over the past 10 regular seasons.
Is that an indictment of Tomlin? Is that just the nature of NFL parity and something the Steelers managed to avoid for far-too-many seasons?
- I don’t know, but it is kind of crazy.
At any rate, I sure hope the Steelers win their game, get the help they need, and stamp their ticket to the tournament.
A seventh seed and a trip to Kansas City/Buffalo/Cincinnati never looked so appealing.