Entering Sunday’s game against the Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers had had 10 prior playoff experiences in which they were facing the same opponent for the third time in that same season. Dating all the way back to a 1947 21-0 loss to the Eagles and stretching all the way forward to the 2014 Wildcard loss to the Ravens, Pittsburgh has been 8-2 in those games.
The Steelers are now 9-2 against opponents in the third matchup of any given season, or 9-1 in the modern era, after the NFL-AFL merger, and since the Super Bowl was inaugurated, now 50 seasons ago. Pittsburgh has faced a division rival in the playoffs in 20 percent of those seasons now, and has done very, very well for itself.
No team has experienced the brunt of the Steelers’ postseason wrath more than what is now the Titans organization, formally the Houston Oilers, who once upon a time shared the AFC Central division before the realignment of 2002 that created the North and South divisions.
The Steelers eliminated the Oilers from the playoffs in each of their three postseason meetings, including in consecutive seasons during Pittsburgh’s golden years, in 1978, and then in 1979.
During the 1978 season, Pittsburgh dismantled Houston on January 7, 1979 in the AFC Championship game by a score of 34-5, launching the Steelers back into the Super Bowl after a two-year absence, consequently becoming the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls by defeating the Cowboys again.
The next season, the AFC Championship game of January 6, 1980, featured the rematch between the two teams, and while the Oilers put up a bit more of a fight, the game was still not particularly close in the end, resulting in a 27-13 margin. The Steelers completed their fourth Super Bowl victory in six years two weeks later.
Skip ahead a decade and we find the Steelers and Oilers competing again, this time in the Wildcard round, taking overtime to decide the 26-23 victory in favor of Pittsburgh, but they went on to lose by just one point to the Broncos in the Division round a week later.
Toward the end of the existence of the original Browns franchise, Cleveland faced Pittsburgh in the Division round in the 1994 playoffs, getting blown out handily by a score of 29-9, but, as with the previous time, they went on to lose in the next round, this time the AFC Championship game to the Chargers, who went on to lose the Super Bowl.
The Steelers had back-to-back playoff seasons featuring division opponents in 2001 and 2002, first blowing out the Ravens 27-10 in the Division round before losing in the AFC Championship game once again, this time to the Patriots. The next season, a narrow 36-33 victory over the Browns gave way to a narrow loss to—the Titans in the following round.
An unlikely victory over the Bengals in 2005 fueled a Super Bowl run. The Steelers defeated the Ravens in both 2008 and 2010, the former in the AFC Championship game to advance to the Super Bowl, but of course, Baltimore had its revenge in topping the Ravens just last year.
In spite of that one blip, Pittsburgh’s defeat of the Bengals on Saturday renewed their historical dominance over division opponents in the postseason in the modern era of the game.