If the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs in 2013, and at least one of their regular-season wins came on the road against another playoff team, bet on the Steelers to go to Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Steelers’ last three Super Bowl teams defeated one playoff team on the road in each of those seasons.
Previously, we talked about road wins by 20 or more points as a sign of the Steelers’ Super Bowl chops (click here).
Why all this focus on road games?
Stockpiling a few wins at home is almost a given for the Steelers. They haven’t had a losing record at home since they went 6-10 in 1999. Since then, they’ve missed the playoffs five times and even had a losing season despite a winning home record.
History has shown that the Steelers’ aptitude as a Super Bowl team is revealed on the road.
That could be true of any team, but in the Steelers’ case, this theory is backed by data.
We established previously that since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year in 2004, the 2005, 2008 and 2010 editions were the only Steelers teams that could both dominate and win close games on the road, regardless of the opponent’s record. Not coincidentally, those were the only Steelers teams of the Roethlisberger era to reach the Super Bowl.
In that article, “dominate” was defined as winning by 20 or more points and “close games” meant a margin of seven points or less.
But just as the hypocycloids on the Steelers’ helmet represent the three materials needed to make steel, there’s a third road characteristic needed to forge a Steelers Super Bowl team.
Along with both convincing and gutsy wins away from home, Steelers teams that get to the Super Bowl have a quality road win on their resume.
In this case, a “quality” road win is a victory over a team that makes the playoffs that year. The Steelers have had six of those since 2004.
The Steelers’ last three Super Bowl teams not only defeated playoff teams on the road, but bested them again in the playoffs.
The Steelers went to Cincinnati and defeated the Bengals 27-13 in 2005, then eliminated them with a 31-17 wild-card win at Cincinnati on the way to winning Super Bowl XL.
In both 2008 and 2010, the Steelers edged the Ravens at Baltimore in December and beat them in the playoffs at Pittsburgh.
As disappointing as the Steelers’ last two seasons have been, they have three road victories over playoff teams.
The 2011 Steelers beat the playoff-bound Bengals 24-17 at Cincinnati and finished 12-4 only to be knocked out of the playoffs by Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in the wild-card round.
In 2012, the Steelers beat two playoff teams on the road for the first time in 10 years. They defeated the Bengals 24-17 and the eventual Super Bowl-champion Ravens 23-20. The Bengals and Ravens played in January, however, while Steelers players went their separate ways.
The 2011 and 2012 Steelers had the quality road wins, but they weren’t going to sniff the Super Bowl because they were missing that 20-point road win.
Their biggest margin of victory on the road since the beginning of 2011 was 12 points at Arizona.
The Steelers have not been an authoritative road team since 2010. Of all nine teams that Roethlisberger has quarterbacked, the 2011 and 2012 Steelers are the bottom two teams in combined road victory margin and total road game point differential.
In 2011, the Steelers’ five road wins came by a total of 30 points. In 2012, their three road wins were decided by a combined 14 points.
Despite a 5-3 road record, the overall road game point differential for the 2011 Steelers was minus-22. Their 35-7 Week 1 loss at Baltimore weighed heavily on that number.
Last year, the Steelers went 3-5 on the road with a point differential of minus-13.
Not surprisingly, the 2005, 2008 and 2010 Steelers take up the top three spots in both of those metrics.
Steelers Combined Road Victory Margin
Steelers Total Road Game Point Differential
The 2013 Steelers figure to have plenty of chances to earn a road win over a team that’s headed to the playoffs.
They’ll be at Cincinnati, Baltimore, New England and Green Bay.
Games at the New York Jets, Oakland and Cleveland will probably be the Steelers’ best chances to regain their swagger with a blowout road win.
Throw in a close win while wearing those road whites, and the 2013 Steelers will have the stuff to reach the ninth Super Bowl in franchise history.