Since writing this article about the Detroit Lions a while back, I have been wondering about the masses of yearly changes the NFL undergoes offseason upon offseason. By this point in the close season, most rosters (apart from whichever one Brett Favre is declaring interest in) are settled and draft picks are beginning to get signed up. New coaches, regimes, players and stadiums have come and gone, but every year around the June-July media deadzone, pundits gather around and begin to posture about the upcoming season.
The first question that most ask is: can the current Super Bowl champs repeat? We at PaP, ever the supporters of the little guy, chose to postulate about the league's worst team first, but the question mark over the Pittsburgh Steelers' chances of repeating interests us as well.
Pittsburgh is an organization with a rich history of winning and one which, if not for the meteoric rise of Tom Brady in 2001, could possibly have been remembered as the dynasty of the 2000s. They've won two Super Bowls in the last five years under two different coaches and have established a roster continuity which only New England can rival.
It would seem likely then, that the Steelers have as good a shot as any team in the last 20 years to repeat as Super Bowl winners. Were they to do so, they would earn that elusive 'dynasty' title which so few teams acquire and even fewer re-acquire years down the road.
So how do the Steelers hope to go about winning the Big Dance all over again? Well, here's a three-step recipe for how to do it. Mike Tomlin, if you're reading, you're welcome.
Step One: Beat the Ravens
The Steelers are in a division which they and the Ravens have dominated (aside from Cleveland's freak ten-win season in 2007) for a number of years. The Bengals and Browns have been horrible (and I mean Nightmare-on-Elm-Street-sequels horrible) at stopping the run for a long time, and thus the power offenses of Baltimore and Pittsburgh have enjoyed a comfortable dominance over them of late. Thus the lesson becomes: beat the Ravens and you'll usually beat the division.
Pittsburgh swept their divisional games last year, beating their bitter rival Ravens thrice as the season progressed through January and guess what? They won the division and the Vince Lombardi trophy. They've only lost six divisional games since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2005, but four of these have been against Baltimore, so it's not an easy task.
Step Two: DON'T Rest Your Starters in Week 17
OK, so assuming the Steelers have beaten the Ravens twice and have the division locked by Week 15, the temptation for Mike Tomlin might be to rest his starters and let them be fresh for the playoffs. Seems a sensible plan, but it's a really crappy one too.
Although it's not a strategy that Tomlin has followed before. In Week 17 last year, despite a mortal lock on a playoff spot, he played all his starters and went on to win the Super Bowl. By contrast, the 13-2 Titans (much to your author's chagrin) sat everyone in week 17 and got shellacked by the Colts' second-stringers before going on to commit horrible rookie errors in the playoffs and losing to the Ravens (although the play clock had definitely run out).
Even if Tomlin chooses to rest his stars in Week 16, he should put them back on for Week 17, because even if they stink up the joint, it should motivate them to perform in crunch time. However, given the young coach's history, he won't rest anyone and this is a good idea.
Step Three: Don't Let New England Intimidate You
Given the Steelers' recent pedigree, it's hard to believe that the Patriots, who haven't won a championship since 2004, are still believed by many to be the favorite in the AFC as the dreamy Tom Brady returns. Despite their five-year title "drought" (if it can be so called), they've still got one of the best coaches in league history and a future Hall-of-Fame QB at the helm, so they're obviously still a danger.
IF (and it's a big IF) these two teams were to meet in the playoffs, say, in the AFC title game as many predict, it would be easy to get intimidated by the gaudy offense and staunch defense that New England brings to the table. The key to this possible matchup is determination, which Pittsburgh has in spades. Maniacally pressure Tom Terrific, baffle them with defensive tomfoolery/wizardry, and pound the clock into the ground. If the Steelers can stand toe-to-toe with the Patriots and win, they should be able to do it with any NFC team.
So can they do it?
The answer to this question seems to be a resounding 'yes'. Barring horrible injuries or an inter-dimensional portal over Heinz Field, the Steelers have a good shot at repeating as NFL champions in '09. Unfortunately, unless anyone is in possession of a DeLorean (or indeed Grays Sports Almanac), the only way to know if the Steelers will do what they definitely are capable of is to wait til February.
Originally posted at playactionpost.com