It does not take a lot of convincing to make a case that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a good chance to return to the postseason this year. The sales pitch has been echoed as early as last season and the argument for their return holds a substantial amount of weight. With bottom tier quarterback play, the Steelers were in the thick of last season’s playoff race right till the end. Earning a playoff spot is not the hope of this year’s squad, it is the expectation and there are many reasons to believe those expectations will become reality.
Without spending too much time on it, let’s quickly summarize the arguments for a playoff appearance that are obvious. Ben Roethlisberger is miles ahead of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, that is visible to just about everyone. The defense is returning 9 of its 11 starters, with Javon Hargrave being the only notable loss. Mark Barron is the second loss, though, he will be replaced by another familiar face in Vince Williams.
The Steelers, who finished with one of the top defenses in the NFL last season will now add in the most accomplished passer in franchise history. That right there could be enough to end this discussion, right? Well, yes but in case more reassurance is needed, there are also some comforting odds that play in their favor.
The turnover rate from non-playoff team to playoff team has been extremely high over the last number of years. It does not take long to go from the outside looking in to playing January football and in the Steelers case, it should be much easier when they arguably already have a playoff-caliber squad at their disposal. An average of six teams per year have accomplished this very feat over the last five years.
Teams That Missed The Postseason The Year Prior Only To Qualify The Following Year
2019: Bills, Titans, Packers, Vikings, 49ers
2018: Ravens, Texans, Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Bears, Seahawks
2017: Bills, Jaguars, Titans, Eagles, Vikings, Saints, Panthers, Rams
2016: Dolphins, Raiders, Cowboys, Giants, Lions, Falcons
2015: Texans, Chiefs, Redskins, Vikings
Scroll through last season’s standings and select six teams that could make the jump from sitting on their couch last year to playing in January. There is a good chance that the Steelers would be one of those six teams selected.
Also helping the Steelers’ case is the newly implemented postseason format that goes into effect this season. Seven teams will now qualify for the postseason instead of the usual six. Had this rule been implemented last season, the Steelers would have qualified and again, that was without having Roethlisberger under center.
Personnel changes and postseason trends point in the Steelers’ favour, now for a final touch, let’s quickly dive into some historical numbers that will be the cherry on top. The Steelers have not qualified for the postseason since the 2017 season. A two-year slide has felt absurd and shocking. Know what would be even more shocking? A three-year stretch in which the Pittsburgh franchise fails to make it to January football. The last time that the team went three consecutive years sitting on the outside looking in came two decades ago from 1998-2000.
Perhaps the obvious is enough for the majority, but for those still unconvinced, hopefully the numbers help bring a new sense of confidence. Let’s go through what I call ‘The Checklist of Optimism’ for the 2020 Steelers before departing.
A postseason caliber quarterback with a postseason caliber defense to back him up? Check.
A volatile turnover rate that sees many new teams qualify for the postseason? Check.
A new postseason format that will allow an additional playoff team? Check.
A 20-year historical trend that speaks volumes to the team’s consistency? Check.
If expectations are high for the Steelers, they come with good reason. Now, all that is left is for the team to execute as expected.