Should the Pittsburgh Steelers fall tomorrow to the Browns, or the Jets top the Bills, it will ensure that, for the first time since the early 1970s, the franchise will have faced five consecutive seasons in which they have failed to secure a playoff victory.
As a matter of fact, should they fail to reach the playoffs this year, they will have only made the postseason twice in the five-year span that has taken place since the Steelers’ most recent victory, which was in the 2010 AFC Championship game that sent them to their record-tying eighth franchise Super Bowl appearance, albeit a loss.
Not once in Bill Cowher’s tenure had the Steelers ever failed to record a postseason victory in five consecutive seasons, though he combined with Chuck Noll in failing to do so in four consecutive seasons from 1990 to 1993. Cowher also missed three straight postseasons altogether from 1998 to 2000.
Speaking of Noll, he failed to win a playoff game in his final three seasons, and made the playoffs just once between 1985 and 1992. But as a franchise, the Steelers have won at least one playoff game in every five-yard span from 1972 to the present day.
And if you think that’s not saying something, then you better think again because the Steelers are in fact the only franchise that can still make even close to that claim, albeit with a strong chance that that claim will be demerited tomorrow.
Every single other one of the 31 NFL franchises—including all of the expansion teams, even the Ravens—have had a playoff victory drought of at least five seasons during that time span. As a matter of fact, there is only one other single team in the NFL who can claim to have such a streak that extended into the 1980s.
From 1993 to the present day, the Green Bay Packers have not experienced a five-year drought in terms of playoff victories. Outside of Pittsburgh, that is the longest stretch in the NFL, including the Patriots, whose streak reaches the early 1990s, but no further.
The Packers hit it hard for a while, however, and in fact went a decade—from 1983 to 1992—without even making the postseason at all. The Steelers certainly have never gone even half as long since Noll first tasted the playoff aura in 1972.
If you choose to admonish Mike Tomlin’s and this team’s failing for missing the postseason this year, extending their playoff win drought to five games for the first time in the modern era, then you are welcome to that, but you should understand the context in which that streak exists, as one that has endured for, literally, generations.
If this team fails to make the playoffs, they will do so with a winning record. They will do so with multiple Pro Bowl players, among the best offenses in the league, and a defense that ranked in the top 10 in sacks and turnovers. They will do so having endured many trials through injury and suspensions.
Yes, they held their playoff destiny in their hands and fell short in among the most unflattering ways possible. And it would be quite unfortunate if that is how this season ends. But don’t let that be the only thing that defines this era of the team, especially from a historical perspective.