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Pittsburgh Steelers: Early-Season Road Performance Will Indicate 2013 Super Bowl Chances

If history is any indication, we should know by Week 8 of the 2013 season whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Circle on your calendar the Steelers’ Week 2 Monday-night game at Cincinnati, their Week 6 game at the New York Jets and their Week 8 game at Oakland.

If the Steelers win one of those games by at least 20 points, they should take a serious look at northern New Jersey hotel rooms for late January.

The last time the Steelers won on the road by 20 or more was the 2010 season finale, when they pounded the Cleveland Browns 41-9. Five weeks later, they were in Super Bowl XLV.

The 2010 Steelers also defeated the host Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-13 in Week 3.

The last three Steelers teams to reach the Super Bowl won a game on the road by at least 20 points in September or October.

In 2005, the Steelers weathered the Texas heat and torched the Houston Texans 27-7 in Week 2. They went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

In 2008, the Steelers hit the road and hammered the Cincinnati Bengals 38-10 in Week 7. They won their sixth Super Bowl that year, defeating the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Since 2004, Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the only other Steelers team to win on the road by at least 20 in the first half of the season was the 2007 squad.

That year, the Steelers opened the season with a 34-7 victory at Cleveland. That turned out to be a quality win because the Browns went 10-6 that year. But unlike Steelers teams that were made of Super Bowl stock, the 2007 edition finished with a losing record on the road and didn’t make it past the wild-card round of the playoffs. None of the Steelers’ eight Super Bowl teams have had a losing road record.

Like the 2007 Steelers, the 2006 Steelers went 3-5 on the road. They routed the Carolina Panthers 37-3 at Charlotte, N.C., in Week 15, but their road prowess came too late that year. They dug themselves too deep of a hole by starting 2-6, including a 20-13 loss at the 2-14 Oakland Raiders. That’s a game a Super Bowl-caliber Steelers team would have won big. Instead, the Steelers settled for 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

History repeated itself in 2012. Again the Steelers lost to a hapless Raiders team at Oakland, falling 34-31 to a team that eventually finished 4-12. Again the Steelers finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

Even if the Steelers exact revenge and beat the Raiders by 30 on Oct. 27, what will it prove? The Raiders are expected to be woeful again this year.

Well, the 2005 Texans were 2-14 and the 2008 Bengals were 4-12. The ability to easily defeat any team on the road, good or bad, means something.

Technically, the Steelers have a “road” game in Week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings, but for the purpose of this study, it’s not really a road game because it’s in London. The Steelers won’t deal with the hostilities of a normal road game.

So if the Steelers can hang a three-touchdown loss on the Bengals, Jets or Raiders this fall, it would at least suggest they’re better than they were in 2011 and 2012. In those two seasons, their only road win by more than seven points was a 12-point win at Arizona in 2011.

Even though the Steelers went 12-4 in 2011, we viewed them with a sidelong glance after they allowed the immortal Curtis Painter to drive the Indianapolis Colts 80 yards to tie the game with less than five minutes to play. The Steelers escaped with a 23-20 win in that Week 3 game at Indianapolis, but that was a 2-14 team.

It was one of four away games the Steelers won by seven points or less that year. While squeaking out those close ones is characteristic of a championship team, the 2011 Steelers never centerpieced their road resume with a 20-point laugher.

It shouldn’t have been surprising, then, that they were eliminated by the 8-8 Broncos in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Even in 2004, when Roethlisberger took over for Tommy Maddox and the Steelers won their last 14 games to finish 15-1, they didn’t look invincible.

Not only would the pixie dust eventually wear off on their rookie quarterback, but the Steelers weren’t blowing out anyone on the road. Five of their road wins came by five points or less, and their most one-sided road win came by 14 points.

The 2004 Steelers fell short of the Super Bowl, losing the AFC championship game 41-27 at home to the New England Patriots.

Steelers teams that go to the Super Bowl are the ones that blend their convincing road victories with wins in road games that could go either way.

After making quick work of the Texans in Week 2 of 2005, the Steelers’ second road win was a 24-22 affair two weeks later at San Diego.

The 2008 Steelers won three road games by five points or less and the 2010 Steelers won four roadies by six or less.

The 2007 Steelers, on the other hand, lost all four of their road games that were decided by seven points or less.

Every team faces a tight road game at one time or another. If the 2013 Steelers are Super Bowl-worthy, they’ll win their share of those games.

What makes a team great, though, is road dominance.

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