If there is one thing that the Pittsburgh Steelers have done particularly well this year, it has been making sure to take care of business against opponents that they have already previously faced earlier during the course of the season. They have so far faced five teams multiple times, and have won all five of the second rounds.
The first three of those games, of course, included their three division rivals. They defeated the Browns and the Bengals both times around, though the rematches both proved to be more difficult. Their win over the Bengals in Week 15 required a fourth-quarter comeback, and the Browns game in the season finale went into overtime.
The Ravens game was a bit different, as they were able to defeat the Steelers earlier in the year. The Steelers seemed to have the rematch in hand late, but the defense folded and allowed Baltimore to put up a touchdown with under 90 seconds remaining in the game. Of course, we know how that ended.
As a matter of fact, each of the Steelers’ past five games, including the Wildcard victory over the Dolphins, to whom they previously lost in spectacular fashion, and the Divisional Round victory over the Chiefs, whom they defeated spectacularly, featured matchups against teams that they had already played earlier in the year.
And don’t doubt for a second that that will change for the AFC Championship Game, as their rivals for this matchup are the Patriots, to whom they lost in their final game before the bye week, though without Ben Roethlisberger under center. That, of course, will be the biggest difference this time around, short of, perhaps, the location, and the implications of the game.
So the Steelers so far this year have defeated three teams twice, and have split a pair of games with two others, and are looking to split another set of games with the Patriots, who defeated Pittsburgh by a margin of 27-16 after a late rushing touchdown turned a four-point game into a two-possession game.
The Steelers defense struggled to stop the run in that game, allowing LeGarrette Blount to rush for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, while Tom Brady attempted only 26 passes over the course of the entire game , though he did throw two touchdown passes.
Among the differences between that game and this are, of course, the absences of Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Heyward. Jamie Collins was also traded after that game. He led the Patriots’ defense with eight solo tackles. Dion Lewis has re-emerged onto the scene for the Patriots, while Bud Dupree and a trio of rookie starters have bolstered the Steelers’ defense.
There is a certain quality of attrition that emerges between two opponents who are familiar with one another, and there can be no greater familiarity than playing a team two times with the same roster. So far, the Steelers are five-for-five in overcoming that war of attrition, but they will have to make it six-for-six in order to face a fresh opponent in Super Bowl LI.