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The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 2010 with the best defense in the NFL. They had a strong, balanced offense and fell one play short of winning their third title in six seasons.
That team is almost entirely intact. Clearly, they have the necessary players and coaching to get the job done in 2011.
But Pittsburgh has several things working against it.
For one thing, the Super Bowl loser has failed to survive the second weekend of the next season's playoffs every year since 1993. This is not simply coincidence, but happens for a reason.
A major factor in this is the narrow window for teams to be elite before players earn contracts that bring about attrition because of the salary cap. Plus, the frequency of injuries in the league is increased by the additional number of games those teams play.
However, those factors affect winners equally, and four of the 18 champions over that span played for their conference championship the next season. Still, none have since 2005 and only one has since 1998, so it is difficult.
What is more telling is that 11 of those 18 champions returned to the playoffs, four in the last nine years. Super Bowl losers have made the playoffs three of the last five years, but had missed in the previous seven.
Why is this? Sometimes a weakness is exposed, and that is true in Pittsburgh: Green Bay exploited their secondary all game long and attacked their weak offensive line.
But losing tests team unity. Under the stress and disappointment of losing, player character issues can be revealed, and there are multiple questions in that regard surrounding the defending AFC champions.
James Harrison has called out Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall this offseason, which should come as no shock given he considered quitting the game rather than dealing with the smaller adversity of not leading with his own or targeting an opponent's helmet on tackles. But that is the worst sign of trouble in that locker room.
Roethlisberger also played poorly for the second time in three Super Bowls after coming under scrutiny from successive seasons facing sexual assault accusations. Mendenhall came under fire for questioning Osama bin Laden's role in the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Hines Ward was arrested for DUI.
Thus, questions about wear and tear, personnel holes and chemistry all have the potential to be Pittsburgh's downfall in 2011.