The Pittsburgh Steelers have really enjoyed playing in November and December—and on occasion, in January—during the regular season over the course of the past several years, an omen that one would hope bodes well for yet another strong finish, this time for their 2017 campaign with Super Bowl ambitions intact.
Over the course of the past four seasons, the Steelers have done no worse than 6-2 in their final eight games. They started 2-6 in 2013, but finished that season 6-2 and nearly made the playoffs. They went 6-2 in consecutive seasons in 2014 and 2015 to push themselves back into the playoffs. Finally, they rode a seven-game winning streak into the playoffs, going 7-1, to clinch the third seed.
Entering the second half of the season tied for the best record in the AFC, duplicating their 6-2 record from the first half of the year would put them in very good position to potentially clinch, this time, a bye week through the first round of the playoffs, and perhaps even secure homefield advantage through to the Super Bowl.
Looking at the schedule, however, one might hope that they can do even better. As I have talked about recently, the Steelers do not have a single road game left against a team with a winning record. They only have two games left against teams who have both a current winning record and a starting quarterback who is healthy.
Arguably their three toughest draws down the stretch figure to be the Tennessee Titans at 5-3, the Baltimore Ravens at 4-5, and, of course, the New England Patriots, who have won five games in a row to match Pittsburgh’s 6-2 record. All three of these games take place at Heinz Field. They also host the floundering Packers and Browns.
Only three road games remain on the schedule, and two of them come against teams who have lost their quarterback for the season in the Colts with Andrew Luck and the Texans with DeShaun Watson. The third road game is against the Bengals. Pittsburgh is 13-2 since 2004 in Cincinnati.
Considering the fact that this team has a strong recent history of building up to the second half to play their best football, I am inclined to feel good about their chances of going at least 7-1 over the course of the next eight games, which, should they do so, would actually give them their best record since 2004.
You can actually keep going back. They went 6-2 in 2011 as well. And in 2010. The only blemish of this decade was in 2012 when Ben Roethlisberger was injured. They started out 6-3 before losing five of their last seven, going 3-5 overall in the second half of the season.
2009 saw a similar catastrophic streak of five consecutive losses coinciding with major injuries. So the key, shockingly, is to stay healthy.