Pittsburgh came close to winning Super Bowl XLV. That makes them at least worth of mention when it comes time to talk about candidates to play in and claim victory in Super Bowl XLVI. There are certainly several teams to be considered and so many things must play out before that contest occurs.
Nevertheless, it's never too early to look at next year's title game. Regardless of the Steelers' recent history in post-Super Bowl seasons, they are a worthy favorite to claim victory next February.
Here are five reasons that you won't be able to pick against the Steelers when it comes to picking Super Bowl favorites.
Everything with any team starts with the quarterback position. Teams with poor quarterback play rarely reach or win the Super Bowl. There are exceptions, but for the most part, teams with elite quarterbacks will play in the title match.
Ben Roethlisberger is on the short list of quarterbacks almost any team would love to have, particularly on a game-winning drive. He has a knack for play-making that is nearly unmatched.
Last year, his failure to lead a victory drive in the Super Bowl came as a surprise to almost everyone. Any time he gets the ball with time running out, he seems to go into a higher gear.
Any time the team has a healthy Roethlisberger under center, there's a good chance they'll be able to claim victory. Improvement along the offensive line would help Big Ben take his game to another level, but he's proven his ability to work around any deficiencies. He's a game-changer and a huge reason why the Steelers are always in the playoff and title conversation.
They may be aging, but the Steelers routinely put together one of the league's top defenses. Last year was no exception and the defense was a huge reason why the team managed to get all the way to the Super Bowl despite some notable road blocks.
If the Steelers can get another healthy year out of their defense and can keep Troy Polamalu on the field and effective, they will likely have a good chance at reaching the title round. Pittsburgh is returning all but one of it's key starters next season (Ike Taylor is still a question mark thanks to the lack of free agency during the lockout period) and will likely try to improve at the corner position to sew up one of the defense's only major holes.
The defense, still lead by venerable Dick LeBeau, should again rank among the league's top units and should help propel the Steelers deep into the playoffs. The combination of Roethlisberger's uncanny abilities and the defense's shutdown potential make the Steelers a consistently tough out.
Consistency in the NFL is something rare and golden. The Steelers have been among the most consistent franchises in the history of the NFL thanks to a top owner and a deep concern for remaining competitive each year.
On the coaching front, the Steelers will return all but one of their coaches. Mike Tomlin is still at the top, and he's been among the top coaches since he took over the Steelers in 2007. He's been through a Super Bowl season twice now and will now try to navigate better in the aftermath than he did in 2009, when the Steelers stumbled to a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs.
Tomlin is a master motivator and figures to have plenty of ammunition for his players this season. If he can continue to get the most out of his players and cultivate backups who can step in and play at a high level, he'll once again be among the coaches vying for a title.
Most teams that lose the Super Bowl fold up the following year and sometimes for a long period of time. Oakland has never really recovered from losing Super Bowl XXXVII.
If any team was equipped to recover from the Super Bowl loss syndrome, it's the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers often thrive in the role of underdog and will no doubt feel slighted because they weren't able to claim victory in 2010. That's perfect motivation for them to go out and win this year.
If the Steelers can turn their loss into a reason to work even harder, they'll have plenty of momentum both mentally and physically to put themselves into the title conversation this year. This really is the perfect underdog scenario.
Few teams can match the Steelers for consistency and experience. More than half of their starters have played in and won two Super Bowls with this team. Players don't usually leave. That level of experience and familiarity breeds a team that consistently wins and performs at a high level.
The Steelers rarely have losing seasons, last posting a sub .500 mark in 2003. The Steelers aren't likely to be a losing team in 2011 and are probably more likely to be in the title conversation than any recent Super Bowl loser.
There will also be considerable intangibles involved. Hines Ward and Dick LeBeau are likely nearing the ends of their careers. They may be pushing for one more ring before they walk away. The team has come together before to get a player and coach a last shot at glory. They certainly could do it again.