Steelers Playoff Picture: What History Tells Us About Pittsburgh as Every Seed
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The Pittsburgh Steelers showed their playoff mettle on Sunday.
The Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens behind backup quarterback Charlie Batch for their most impressive road win since they won in Baltimore in 2010.
A 2012 NFL playoff berth is well within the Steelers' reach. Three of their final four games are at home, and there's a strong possibility they'll have Ben Roethlisberger back for all of them. The only team left on Pittsburgh's schedule with a winning record is the Cincinnati Bengals, who they've already defeated this season.
The Steelers (7-5) better enjoy being home for Christmas and sleeping in their own beds in December, because if they make the playoffs, they're likely to hit the road.
They can't guarantee home-field advantage throughout the playoffs because they're out of the running for the No. 1 seed. There's a slim chance they could be the second, third or fourth seed. It would require overtaking the Ravens (9-3) and winning the AFC North.
Chances are the Steelers will be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed if they make the postseason.
That might not be a bad thing.
In the franchise's 23 playoff appearances since teams were first seeded in 1975, the Steelers have held each of the six seeds at least twice. With the help of Pro Football Reference, let's take a look at how the Steelers have fared historically as each seed.
Record as the No. 1 seed: 9-4
For the last 20 years, the top seed has been like "The Pearl" for the Steelers. Like the gem in John Steinbeck's novel, the guarantee of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs has come with a lot of misfortune.
The Steelers lost the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field to the New England Patriots in 2001 and 2004, with the Patriots going on to win the Super Bowl both times.
As the No. 1 seed in 1994, the Steelers lost the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium to the San Diego Chargers.
The Steelers also were the top seed in 1992, going 11-5 in Bill Cowher's first season as coach. But they were an upstart team that was no match for the seasoned Buffalo Bills, who came to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoffs on the way to the third of their four straight Super Bowl appearances.
The road to the Super Bowl went through Pittsburgh many times when Cowher patrolled the sidelines, and visiting teams drove right through.
It wasn't always that way.
The Steelers won Super Bowls as the No. 1 seed in 1975 and 1978, beating the Dallas Cowboys both times. They defeated the Oakland Raiders in the 1975 AFC title game and the Houston Oilers in the 1978 AFC title game.
The Steel Curtain teams of the 1970s handled the No. 1 seed much better than Steelers teams of modern times.
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Record as the No. 2 seed: 11-3
Silvio Dante, Tony Soprano's consigliere on "The Sopranos," once said that some people are just better suited as the second in command.
So it is with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
History tells us that for the Steelers to reach the Super Bowl, the No. 2 seed is the way to go.
The Steelers have gone to the Super Bowl four of the five times they've been the No. 2 seed.
The Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII as the second seed in 2008 and Super Bowl XIV as the second seed in 1979. They were the second seed in 2010 and 1995, losing Super Bowl XLV and Super Bowl XXX.
While the Steelers haven't done well when the road to the Super Bowl goes through Pittsburgh, they do much better when it originally goes through another destination but is re-routed through Pittsburgh.
The New England Patriots defeated the Steelers 39-26 in the regular season and were the top seed in 2010. The Jets upset them in the AFC Divisional Playoffs before losing to the Steelers at Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game.
The Tennessee Titans beat the Steelers 31-14 on the way to earning the No. 1 seed in 2008. The Baltimore Ravens knocked them off in the divisional round, only to fall to the Steelers in the AFC title game at Heinz Field.
The San Diego Chargers spanked the Steelers 35-7 in 1979. Both teams finished 12-4, and that win gave San Diego the tiebreaker over the Steelers for home-field advantage. Then the Houston Oilers did the Steelers' dirty work by upsetting the Chargers 17-14 in San Diego, only to go to Pittsburgh the following week and lose in the AFC Championship Game.
The Steelers have never fallen short of the AFC Championship Game as the No. 2 seed. They lost at home to the Denver Broncos in the 1997 AFC title game, the only time the second seed did not lead to the Super Bowl.
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Record as the No. 3 seed: 4-6
Some Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff runs as the No. 3 seed have been dull. Others have been dramatic. Some have led to humiliation. Others have led to heartbreak.
None of them have led to the Super Bowl.
Since the NFL expanded to 12 playoff teams in 1990, the No. 3 seed gets a home playoff game in the wild-card round. The Steelers have made two such appearances, winning the wild-card game but losing the following week both times.
In 1996, the Steelers routed the Indianapolis Colts 42-14 at home in the wild-card game and were blown out 28-3 a week later by Drew Bledsoe and the New England Patriots on a foggy day in Foxboro.
The Steelers' playoff run as the third seed was a little more riveting in 2002. In the wild-card game at Pittsburgh, they trailed the Cleveland Browns 24-7 late in the third quarter and 33-21 with less than four minutes to go. But Tommy Maddox saved the day and the Steelers won 36-33.
Maddox led the Steelers back from an early 14-0 deficit the following week in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Tennessee, but the Titans eventually won 34-31 in overtime.
From 1978 to 1989, there was no home playoff game in the first round for the No. 3 seed. Five teams made the playoffs in each conference. There was one wild-card game, and the winner faced the top seed while the No. 2 seed hosted the No. 3.
The Steelers won the AFC Central in 1983 and 1984 and were the No. 3 seed because they had the third-best record among the division winners.
They fell flat on their face in '83, losing 38-10 to the Raiders, who moved to Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994.
The following year, the 9-7 Steelers upset John Elway and the Broncos 24-17 at Denver in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
The pixie dust wore off the following week.
NFL MVP Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins stamped out any hopes for a rebirth of the 1970s glory days, hammering the Steelers 45-28 in the AFC Championship Game at Miami.
The No. 3 seed was inauspicious for the Steelers in the 1970s. They were seeded third in 1976 and 1977, the two intervening years between their two pairs of Super Bowl victories.
In 1976, the Steelers crushed the Baltimore Colts 40-14 at Baltimore in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game, but lost running backs Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Frenchy Fuqua to injuries and were without all three the following week at Oakland.
The Raiders took advantage and defeated the Steelers 24-7 to end their two-year reign as Super Bowl champions.
The following year, the Steelers lost at Denver in the divisional round before regaining the top seed in 1978 and getting back to the Super Bowl.
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Record as the No. 4 seed: 0-2
The No. 4 seed historically has been the Steelers' worst draw. It's the only seed where they haven't won a playoff game, and both of their losses have been heartbreakers.
The Steelers lost running back Willie Parker to a broken leg in 2007 and had to start Najeh Davenport at running back in their wild-card game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Steelers trailed 28-10 early in the fourth quarter, but came back and took a 29-28 lead. They had a chance to close out the game when the Jaguars faced 4th-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 43, but quarterback David Garrard ran 32 yards to not only keep the Jaguars alive but get them in field-goal range.
Josh Scobee's 25-yard field goal with 40 seconds left gave Jacksonville a 31-29 victory.
A quarter-century earlier, the Steelers were the No. 4 seed following the strike-shortened 1982 season. Eight teams made the playoffs in each conference that year, and the Steelers hosted Dan Fouts and the fifth-seeded San Diego Chargers.
The Steelers squandered a 28-17 fourth-quarter lead and lost 31-28 in Terry Bradshaw's final playoff game.
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Record as the No. 5 seed: 1-2
The Steelers have been the No. 5 seed twice, and their season ended in Denver both times.
The circumstances were vastly different, however.
The 1989 Steelers were coming off a 5-11 campaign and lost their season opener 51-0 at home to the Cleveland Browns. They lost their second game 41-10 in Cincinnati, yet somehow they rebounded, finished 9-7 and made the playoffs.
In the wild-card game, the Steelers closed out the 1980s by upsetting the Houston Oilers 26-23 in overtime on New Year's Eve.
The following week, John Elway and the Broncos avenged their playoff loss to Pittsburgh five years earlier. Denver came back from a 23-17 fourth-quarter deficit and won 24-23. That one-point margin loomed large after a Broncos' extra-point was partially blocked earlier in the game, but just made it over the crossbar.
Because they came such a long way from their embarrassing start, 1989 is one of the more fondly remembered Steelers seasons.
The same can't be said for the 2011 Steelers. Much more was expected of them, and their wild-card playoff defeat in Denver last season was ignominious on many levels.
The 12-4 Steelers were eliminated by an 8-8 team. Their defense was dissected by Tim Tebow, who couldn't even complete half of his passes during the regular season and has since been buried on the New York Jets quarterback depth chart.
Then in overtime, the Broncos needed just 11 seconds to win as the Steelers' defense parted like the Red Sea for Demaryius Thomas.
The fifth seed is a real possibility for the Steelers this season. They're one game behind the Indianapolis Colts, who currently hold the No. 5 spot.
At least if they go back to Denver they'll have a little more respect for the quarterback than they did last January.
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Record as the No. 6 seed: 4-1
The Steelers ended their 26-year wait for One for the Thumb as the No. 6 seed in 2005.
They defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL, becoming the first No. 6 seed to win the Super Bowl. To get to the Super Bowl, the Steelers defeated the Bengals in Cincinnati in a wild-card game, then they stunned Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round before rolling through Denver in the AFC title game.
The Steelers' only other appearance as the No. 6 seed came in 1993. They couldn't foil Joe Montana like they would foil Manning 12 years later. The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Steelers 27-24 in overtime with Montana leading them back from a 24-17 fourth-quarter deficit.
The Steelers' night-and-day fortunes the two times they've been the No. 6 seed shouldn't be surprising considering their records. They were 9-7 in 1993 and 11-5 in 2005. They currently hold the No. 6 seed this season.
A 9-7 record will probably get them into the playoffs, but if they win the rest of their games, they'll be 11-5 and have history on their side as they try to win their seventh Super Bowl.