The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Who is more likely to make a return trip to the AFC Championship game this season should they lose?
The Steelers and Patriots will tomorrow play arguably the most important regular season game of the entire year at Heinz Field, with the victor almost assuredly securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs for itself.
While both teams have significant postseason experience, both long-term and recently, I think it would be obviously fair to give the Patriots the edge in this regard, having, you know, just won the Super Bowl, and having five-time champion quarterbacks and head coaches.
That makes a pretty compelling case all on its own that lack of homefield advantage would be less of a detriment for the Patriots than it would be for the Steelers. But complicating matters is that Dolphins loss. Should they lose to Pittsburgh, they lose their control over the number two seed.
Put simply, if New England loses, the Jaguars will own the tiebreaker (conference record), so if they win out, New England will have to play on wildcard weekend, and then on the road in the divisional round. That just doesn’t happen very often.
In fact, the last time the Patriots even played on wildcard weekend was all the way back in 2009, incredibly enough. They have been the one or two seed in six consecutive seasons. They haven’t lost in the divisional round since 2010.
In fact, the Patriots have only even played two road games in the postseason since 2006. They lost both of those games, both of them to the Broncos, in the conference championships of 2013 and 2015. They are 1-4 in road playoff games since then, and 3-4 in the Tom Brady era, the first two road wins being…in Pittsburgh, in the 2001 and 2004 championship games.
So take that information and do what you will with it. Of course, it assumes the Jaguars win their final three games, and they only just secured a winning record for the first time in 11 years.