The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.
The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.
How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Which division is most likely to be the first to send four teams to the postseason under the current system?
Between 1990 and 2001, it was possible for four teams from the same division to reach the postseason in the same year. It was in 1990 that the NFL added an extra—third-wildcard seed to each conference, which at the time was divided into three divisions. With the realignment in 2002, four divisions were created in each conference, with the division winners plus two wildcards entering the postseason.
During that time, there were two incidences of one division, the NFC East, sending four teams to the postseason. Of course, with the realignment, it was made impossible for this to occur, for the better part of the next two decades, but with the league adding back a third wildcard with seven seeds in each conference, it is once again a possibility for one division to send four teams in to the playoffs in one year—in this case, all of them.
It is very rare for one division to witness all of its teams having a strong season at the same time. I haven’t done the research, but I’m guessing there couldn’t have been more than one or two instances of one team who sent three teams to the playoffs in one year having had the fourth team finish in the ‘seventh’ seed.
There have, however, been eight instances of divisions sending three teams to the postseason under the alignment from 2002-2019, with the AFC North having done it twice. If there is to be a division that sends four to the playoffs under the current rules, which division would that be? Does the AFC North, which now may actually be quarterback-rich across the board for the first time, stand the best chance of capturing that feat the soonest?