As good as the Pittsburgh Steelers have been over the course of the past decade and a half, they have only once been in the position based on their win-loss record that they are now. Should they defeat the Cleveland Browns tomorrow—evidently with backups—then they will finish with one of the best records that they have ever had in their history.
The best record they have ever managed, of course, came in 2004 during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season. The team went 15-1 that year, and Roethlisberger himself won 13 games. If he plays and wins in the finale, he would tie the most wins he’s had in a year, though it doesn’t sound as though he will play.
The team reaching a 13-3 record, though, would represent a high point. By winning percentage, it would tie for the fourth-best record that they have ever had in their 85-year history. The 15-1 campaign of 2004 stands at the top, but that is followed by the Super Bowl season of 1978, during which they went 14-2.
The Steelers also posted a 12-2 record in 1975, during which they won the Super Bowl for the second time. That was one of the final seasons under the 14-game format, which was adopted in the 1978 season.
And then there was 2001, the final season played under the old divisional alignments, before the AFC North even existed. The Steelers posted a 13-3 record that year, winning the division, but ended up faltering in the AFC Championship game, which was a common theme in the years between 1996 and 2004.
The Steelers have gone at least 11-5 now in eight of Roethlisberger’s 14 seasons. They have also gone 10-6 twice, and only three times posted eight- or nine-win seasons during that span. This is the fifth time that they have won at least 12 games since Roethlisberger was drafted, and the first time since 2011.
Yet the top seed has regularly eluded them, and it has typically been the New England Patriots keeping them from reaching that level. The likelihood is that that will be the case once again this season, though a Patriots loss would put it in play.
A win would also be the 116th of Mike Tomlin’s tenure, which would place him in second all-time for wins in the first 11 seasons of a head coach’s career. He currently owns a 115-60 record over the course of his first 175 regular season games, posting a winning percentage of .657, which is the 15th-best in NFL history.
But all great coaches are judged first and foremost in the number of Super Bowl titles that they have earned. Tomlin has been to the game twice and has won it once, but it has been a decade since. This may be the best opportunity that they have had to claim it since then, or at least since 2010.