Though they were forced to back in to the playoffs by bombing a game and needing to get help at the end of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are already far ahead of the mark when it comes to their recent history dating back to 2011.
The Steelers had only made the playoffs twice from 2011 to 2014, failing to reach the postseason in 2012 and 2013. Last season, as a division winner, they lost in the Wildcard round to the Ravens. In 2011, as a Wildcard team, they lost in the opening round to the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos also happen to be the next team on deck for Pittsburgh’s first Divisional round playoff game in five years, when they managed to advance all the way to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.
As it just so happens, the Broncos have been the Steelers’ most frequent opponent over the course of their soon-to-be 57-game playoff history. Sunday’s matchup will be the eighth time that the two teams will have gone up against each other. And when these two teams meet in the postseason, it tends to bode well for the victor.
The Broncos unfortunately have found more success against Pittsburgh than has been the case in the opposite direction, with Denver owning victories in four of the seven previous meetings, including the most recent, featuring the first playoff game ever decided under the new overtime rules, that being the infamous 80-yard Tim Tebow touchdown pass on the first play of extra time in the 2011 Wildcard game.
The rivalry began in the 1977 playoffs, with the Broncos knocking out the Steelers in the Divisional round, after which Denver advanced all the way to the Super Bowl but lost. The Steelers had their revenge the following year, this time at home, winning 33-10 and going on to win the Super Bowl themselves.
Interestingly, the Broncos’ victories over Pittsburgh during the 1989 and 1998 playoffs also propelled them to Super Bowl appearances, with the latter finally culminating in a victory. So three of their four victories catapulted them to the championship game.
That is also true of two of the Steelers’ three victories over the Broncos, in 1978 and in 2005, with Pittsburgh going on to win the Super Bowl in both years. So in five of the two teams’ seven previous meetings, the victor went on to appear in the Super Bowl, winning three times.
The Steelers’ closest contender for number two would be, as should be no surprise, the Raiders, with whom Pittsburgh had a major rivalry in the 1970s. incredibly, the two teams faced each other in the postseason in five consecutive years, from 1972 to 1976, with the Steelers winning three of those games, beginning with the infamous Immaculate Reception game.
Pittsburgh has also faced the Colts five times in the postseason, most recently during the 2005 playoffs in what might perhaps be the team’s second-most well-known postseason game that was not in a Super Bowl. That game, of course, featured a Jerome Bettis goal line fumble and a saved touchdown by a tackle from Ben Roethlisberger.
As for the Broncos, they have not had near the rivalry with any other team that they have had with Pittsburgh. The only other team that they have faced at least four times heading into their 40th postseason game is the Patriots, most recently nabbing a victory and propelling them to a seventh Super Bowl appearance, which they lost.