Though their 16-game path varies from year to year, the Steelers typically land in a familiar spot: playoff-bound with a decent chance to win the Super Bowl.
What more could you ask for?
In 12 seasons since the millennium turned, this franchise has qualified for the playoffs eight times — including this season — and has won 12 playoff games, three AFC championships and two Super Bowls.
To put that into perspective, and perhaps lend a little on how the rest of the football world lives, consider that nearly half of the league’s teams — 14 of 32 — are still scrounging for their first Super Bowl victory.
Once the Steelers complete their regular-season journey today in Cleveland, attention immediately will turn to the playoff opener.
As such, this would be the ideal time to peak into the rearview mirror and appraise a campaign that took root, as always, in sweltering heat amid the rolling hills of Latrobe …
- MVP: Ben Roethlisberger. Did his teammates really not pick him (again) for this award? Somebody should tell them they’d be 8-8, at best, without their quarterback. Go watch tape of the Kansas City game, when Roethlisberger was under constant siege but still found a way to make the biggest play and win. Roethlisberger rebounded from a rough first quarter of the season, shrugged off injuries and led the team to wins in eight of his past 10 starts. Highlight was beating Tom Brady at his own game.
- Best Play: Franchise-record, 95-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace comes to mind. But in 40 years of watching football, I’d never seen a punt returner race 40 yards to crush a punter, one yard short of a first down. Antonio Brown, come on down!
- Worst Play: Baltimore’s Torrey Smith somehow gets behind secondary (again?) to win critical game at Heinz Field.
- Biggest Surprise: Max Starks, having practiced three times in 338 days, returns to play superbly vs. Titans.
- Biggest Disappointment: Rashard Mendenhall — though there’s still time to make amends.
- Best Coaching Decision: Changing personalities on both sides to beat Patriots. That meant attempting 50 passes, much of the rhythm variety, and using press coverage to stifle Brady