Steelers or Patriots: Who Is the Team of the Decade?

Tom ShelleyCorrespondent IJune 7, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 9:  Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium December 9, 2007 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 34-13.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Analysts and Bleacher Report writers alike have debated this very topic. I decided it was time for me to tackle this question and perhaps come to a conclusion myself in the process.

This is an un-biased, unabashed, real look at who is the better team.

I will look at several statistics: Super Bowl appearances, Playoff appearances, team record, offensive production, defensive production, and head-to-head results.

I'm not going to compare quarterbacks or specific positions. The Brady vs. Roethlisberger debate is another story altogether and I'm not going to go there for the sake of this article.

I'm trying to prove which team is better.

Super Bowl appearances

This is certainly the easiest topic. The Patriots appeared in Super Bowl XXXVI (2002), XXXVIII (2004), XXXIX (2005) and XLII (2008).

They won the first three, with the fourth being a loss to the New York Giants, 17-14. They won three out of four titles in seven years, ironically winning by three points the first three games and losing by three points versus the Giants.

The Steelers have appeared in Super Bowl XL (2006) and XLIII (2009), winning both. That's two wins in four years. They outscored their opponents by a point margin of +15 points.

So who has the edge in this category?

Well, one could say the Patriots have more titles in that time span. They also won their first two rings in less time by one year. So the Patriots should win.

However, one could also say that the Steelers performed better (read Steelers, not Roethlisberger), so therefore they were a much better team versus the NFC opponent, and therefore the Steelers should win.

Results: Patriots win with a slight edge. You can't argue that they have more titles. Plain and simple.

Playoff appearances

Both teams have made the playoffs six times.

New England's postseason record in that span is 11-2, outscoring opponents 330-225.

The Steelers' record is 8-4, outscoring opponents 331-276.

Who would've thought the Steelers offense was slightly more productive than the Patriots' and the Patriots defense outperformed the Steelers'?

Results: Patriots win. With a better overall record and higher point differential, the Patriots have performed better than the Steelers. Not only that, but they have eliminated the Steelers in the playoffs twice.

Regular season

So who has dominated the regular season?

New England's record is 102-42. Pittsburgh's is 94-49-1.

Let's look at head-to-head match-ups during the regular season.

2002: New England wins: 30-14

2004: Pittsburgh wins: 34-20 (breaking the Patriots' long 21-game winning streak)

2005: New England wins: 23-20

2007: New England wins: 34-13

2008: Pittsburgh wins: 33-10

Results: New England with a slight lead. You can go ahead and say it's going to be hard for the Steelers to eclipse the Patriots with 7.5 more wins. However, when you figure that it's been nine years, that means the Patriots have won a measly .78 more games per year than the Steelers. And they had a perfect season.

New England has a slight edge in the regular season head-to-head matchups, which solidified the win.

Offensive Production

So which offense has been more productive overall? During the playoffs, as shown above, the Steelers offense nudges out the Patriots offense in points produced. But how about the regular season?

2000 season:
Steelers rank: 18th (Ranked fourth in rushing YPG)
Patriots rank: 22nd

2001 season:
Steelers rank: Third (First place in rushing ypg)
Patriots rank: 19th

2002 season:
Steelers rank: Fifth
Patriots rank: 21st

2003 season:
Steelers rank: 22nd
Patriots rank: 17th

2004 season:
Steelers rank: 16th (Second in rushing YPG)
Patriots rank: Seventh

2005 season:
Steelers rank: 15th (Fifth in rushing YPG)
Patriots rank: Seventh

2006 season:
Steelers rank: Seventh
Patriots rank: 11th

2007 season:
Steelers rank: 17th (Third in rushing YPG)
Patriots rank: First  (First in passing YPG)

2008 season:
Steelers rank: 22nd
Patriots rank: Fifth

Results: Push
New England out-ranked Pittsburgh five out of nine seasons. However, they only had one season where they had a top-five offense in either passing or rushing. Pittsburgh had five such seasons in nine years.

Also, the Steelers have out-scored the Patriots in the playoffs with one fewer game played.


This has been an issue of debate lately on whether the Steelers defense is actually better. Let's take a look at the rankings and put this debate to rest.

2000 season:
Steelers rank: Seventh
Patriots rank: 20th

2001 season:
Steelers rank: First (First in rushing YPG and fourth in passing YPG)
Patriots rank: 24th

2002 season:
Steelers rank: Seventh (First in rushing YPG)
Patriots rank: 23rd

2003 season:
Steelers rank: Ninth
Patriots rank: Seventh (Fourth in rushing YPG)

2004 season:
Steelers rank: First (First in rushing YPG and fourth in passing YPG)
Patriots rank: Ninth

2005 season:
Steelers rank: Fourth (Third in rushing YPG)
Patriots rank: 26th

2006 season:
Steelers rank: Ninth (Third in rushing YPG)
Patriots rank: Sixth (Fifth in rushing YPG)

2007 season:
Steelers rank: First (Third in rushing YPG and third in passing YPG)
Patriots rank: Fourth

2008 season:
Steelers rank: First (Second in rushing YPG and first in passing YPG)
Patriots rank: 10th

Results: Steelers by a huge margin
The Steelers have utterly dominated the past decade on defense. They are clearly one of the best teams in the league at stopping the run, year in and year out. They were first in the league four times and were in the top-five in rushing defense a total of seven out of nine years.

One could argue they might be the best defense this decade. But, alas, that's not what we're debating.

In conclusion, the Patriots won three out of five of the categories.

However, the results were surprising when it came to offense. The Patriots did not dominate quite as much as everyone who talks about Tom Brady's heralded offense might suggest.

Additionally, the Steelers defense has been completely and utterly dominant over the past nine years. There is no room for argument about which defense has performed at a higher level whatsoever (cough, Len Pasquarelli, cough).

So, statistically in terms of team performance, the Steelers have the edge.

But what settles this debate?

The postseason. The regular season serves to get the best teams on the field for the playoffs. It doesn't matter if you have the best rank in any or all of the categories if you can't perform in the postseason.

No one gets rings for trying the hardest.

The fact is, the Patriots have a better playoff record and have won one more Super Bowl.


Overall Results: Patriots by a small margin.

If the Steelers win the Super Bowl this year they would take the advantage because it would be the same amount of Super Bowl victories but in less time, especially if the Steelers eliminate the Patriots along the way.

However, if the Patriots win it all or go farther in the playoffs, that will solidify them as the team of the decade. Both teams are primed to go deep in the playoffs.

Can the Steelers finally break their postseason losing streak against the Patriots?

We will have to wait until January to find out.