The Pittsburgh Steelers know full well that their season could be over in just a few short days. Even if they win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, that still will not ensure themselves entrance into postseason play—they would need help from their own rivals in order for that to happen.
This is new territory for a good percentage of the roster at this point, many of whom actually don’t know what it’s like to miss the postseason. The Steelers have reached the postseason in each of the past four years dating back to 2014, and have even made it to at least the Divisional Round in each of the past three seasons. Only they and the New England Patriots have done that.
Many of this team’s most important players have, up to this point in their careers, only known what it’s like to win a lot of games and play football in January. Anybody added in the past five years (excluding 2018 obviously) would fall under that description.
That includes Stephon Tuitt, the team’s 2014 second-round pick. The Steelers reached the postseason for the first time since 2011 that year, and he played a role in that by entering the starting lineup late in the season. They’ve been in the dance every year since he’s been on the team.
Bud Dupree is another. And Eli Rogers. And Jesse James. And Alejandro Villanueva. Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave, and Artie Burns have never not played in the Divisional Round before. in T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster’s rookie season a year ago, the Steelers won 13 games and secured a bye week for themselves. Throw in James Conner and Mike Hilton as well.
This group had better start to prepare for the same sort of rude awakening that others have felt in the past, such as the 2010 draft class that included Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jason Worilds. They played in a Super Bowl as rookies and went 12-4 a year later. Then they experienced two 8-8 seasons and found themselves on the outside looking in.
The Steelers’ four consecutive playoff appearances from 2014 to 2017 is actually the longest streak that the team has had in two decades. They reached the postseason in six consecutive years from 1992 to 1997 at the beginning of Bill Cowher’s tenure before failing to reach the playoff three years in a row after that.
Since then, they have never made it to more than two postseasons in a row. They had dips in 2003, 2006, and 2009 before hitting it twice in a row for 2012 and 2013. So this is actually the best the Steelers have been in terms of reaching the postseason in decades. That’s something to appreciate.