The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer one of the first teams that come to mind when people think of consistently successful NFL franchises.
A model franchise can be counted on to make the playoffs every season with rare exceptions.
The Steelers are not in that category.
In the 21st century, the Steelers have missed the playoffs every third year. They made the playoffs in 2001 and 2002, but missed them in 2003. They made the playoffs in 2004 and 2005, but fell short in 2006. They made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, but didn’t in 2009. They made the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, but once again failed to make a third straight playoff appearance this season.
The last three times the Steelers have paired together playoff seasons, they’ve gone to the Super Bowl in one of those years (2005, 2008 and 2010). However, the Steelers’ non-playoff seasons have become too frequent to be forgiven by periodic Super Bowl appearances, especially since they lost their last Super Bowl and it’s been five years since their most recent championship.
For two straight years, Steelers fans have enjoyed watching the Ravens and Patriots in the AFC Championship Game about as much as Statler and Waldorf enjoyed everything they saw on “The Muppet Show.”
It’s not by accident that the Ravens and Patriots have met in the conference championship for two straight seasons. They’re the only AFC teams that have made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. The Steelers have missed the playoffs twice during that time.
Sure, the Steelers have won two championships since the Patriots won their last one. Peyton Manning went one-and-done in the playoffs for the eighth time in his career, this time taking the Broncos down with him instead of the Colts. Matt Ryan finally won a playoff game, but couldn’t get the Falcons into the Super Bowl.
The Patriots, Broncos and Falcons all have their crosses to bear, but are the Steelers really in better shape than any of those franchises?
Whether or not they win Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens are the only team in the NFL that has made the playoffs for five straight seasons. They’ve won four playoff games over the past two seasons. The Steelers have won none.
Joe Flacco has never missed the playoffs in his career. Ben Roethlisberger has missed the playoffs twice since Flacco arrived in the NFL.
OK, so the Steelers have been to the postseason six times since the Browns last made it in 2003. The Raiders’ and Bills’ playoff droughts have been even longer. Those franchises probably wouldn’t mind trading places with the Steelers, but we’re talking about the Third World of the NFL here. The Steelers aspire to be an NFL superpower year-in and year-out, but their inability to string together three straight playoff appearances makes them a second-class franchise on the NFL’s geopolitical map.
Using playoff appearances as a measuring stick, 10 NFL franchises appear to be in better working order than the Steelers, including the six teams that made the AFC playoffs this season. The Steelers are the only 2011 AFC playoff team that couldn’t get back there in 2012.
The Packers join the Ravens and Patriots as the only NFL teams that have made the playoffs each of the last four years.
The Falcons have made the playoffs the last three years.
The Saints were derailed by the bounty scandal this year, but made three straight playoff appearances before that, winning the Super Bowl in 2009.
The Colts have made the playoffs three of the last four years, seamlessly making a transition between franchise quarterbacks.
The 49ers, Broncos and Texans all have reached the postseason and won at least one playoff game in each of the last two seasons.
Even the Bengals seem to at least be on even footing with the Steelers. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, but at least they’ve made the playoffs for two straight seasons and three of the last four. That’s more than the Steelers can say.
When the Steelers no longer can laugh at the Bengals, there’s a problem.
The good news is the solution isn’t as complicated as it seems. The Steelers can regain their status as a model NFL franchise.
To be continued.