Throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers’ illustrious history filled with record highs and serious lows over 88 seasons, one thing has been consistent overall with the black and gold: the franchise’s ability to compete at a relatively high level.
Sure there were the very low lows pre- and post-World War II, but from the 1970s to the current day, the Steelers have found themselves entering seemingly each season knowing they’d be able to compete, and often compete for a Super Bowl championship.
As one of the pillar franchises in the NFL, it’s really no surprise that the Steelers ranked as the third-best total dynasty franchise in Football Outsiders’ metrics compiled by author Bryan Knowles Friday.
The Steelers also tied for fifth with the most dynasty seasons with 19 in their history, according to Football Outsiders.
Many readers are probably asking what the total dynasty metrics are, and it’s a fair question. According to Football Outsiders, which uses overall record and winning percentage, as well as DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), ranked the league’s best 57 dynasties, 49 anti-dynasty teams, 44 dynasties of heartbreak, and 60 dynasties of mediocrity across the NFL. It’s a quick look at all 32 teams and their historic eras of greatness, putridity, and everything in between.
Quite honestly, it’s a pretty fun exercise, and unsurprisingly, the Steelers are near the top overall in the total metrics points as the only team in the league to have a top 10 ranking in all four categories.
Here’s the list of teams and overall seasons the Steelers ranked in dynasty, anti-dynasty, heartbreak and mediocrity, according to Football Outsiders.
1933-1941: Anti-Dynasty (8)
1949-1961: Mediocrity (1)
1964-1971: Anti-Dynasty (21)
1972-1979: Dynasty (6)
1980-1993: Mediocrity (5)
1987-1997: Heartbreak (9)
1992-1997: Dynasty (40)
2001-2005: Dynasty (44)
2014-2021: Heartbreak (24)
Total Dynasty Seasons: 19
Total Anti-Dynasty Seasons: 17
Total Heartbreak Seasons: 19
Total Mediocrity Seasons: 27
Total Qualified Seasons: 69 (of 89; 77.5%)
“The Steelers don’t do anything by half-measures. Between the four lists, we have 40 top-10 runs; the Steelers have five of them, and they’re the only team in the top 10 in all four flavors of rankings,” Knowles writes regarding the Steelers in the Total Dynasties article at footballoutsiders.com. “Obviously, the Steel Curtain will be the primary historical feature of the Steelers for a long, long time, but they were terrible in the pre-war era, bland as bland can be in the post-war era, and a quarterback short of another dynasty in the 1990s. That’s an impressive collection of single-digit rankings, even if they haven’t added to it since thens.
“The Steelers’ current heartbreak dynasty feels over now that Ben Roethlisberger is gone, but who knows? Maybe Kenny Pickett will lead the Steelers into a new era of just barely failing at things and get yet another top-10 run for this franchise.”
As I wrote earlier, there’s no denying how downright putrid the Steelers’ franchise was from its inception in 1933 through at least 1969. Sure, there were some good seasons overall for the black and gold in that span, like the 1947 division title, or the 9-5 season in 1962 under Buddy Parker. For the most part though, the Steelers were as mediocre as they came in the NFL during that era.
In fact, from 1933 to 1970, the Steelers had just six winning seasons (1942, 1947, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1963). The Steelers also had four seasons in which they finished extra .500 in that same span.
When Chuck Noll became the new head coach in 1969, things didn’t get better right away as the Steelers went 1-13 in his first season. That season brought growing pains, but eventually led to greatness and the Steelers’ first dynasty run from 1972-1979, winning four Super Bowls and seven division titles, including six straight from 1974-79.
That era gave birth to the Steel Curtain, which captured the fan base and gained national attention for the Steelers across the country, becoming one of the most popular franchises in the NFL, which remains today.
Following the run of dominance in the 70s though, things fell off a bit in the 80s into the early 90s as the stars of the 70s rode off into retirement, and Noll couldn’t quite find the same magic he once did, leading to the 13-year run of mediocrity, as Football Outsiders tabs it, even though the Steelers made the playoffs four times under Noll in the 80s, making it to the AFC Championship Game in 1984.
Bill Cowher took over in 1992 and gave rise to the Steelers once again, leading to a dynasty run again from 1992-97, though the Steelers didn’t win a Super Bowl in that span. Still, the Steelers won the division in five of the six seasons, went to the playoffs every year in that run, reached the Super Bowl in 1995 and made two other AFC Championship games in 1994 and 1997.
The Steelers then saw another dynasty run from 2001-2005 under Cowher, winning Super Bowl XL while reaching two other AFC Championship games in 2001 and 2004. It’s a bit surprising Football Outsiders didn’t extend the dynasty run into 2010 under Mike Tomlin, as the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII in 2008 under Tomlin, and made the Super Bowl in 2010 under Tomlin.
Finally, Football Outsiders tabbed the most recent era of 2014-2021 as an era of heartbreak for the Steelers, which sums it up nicely.
In that span, the Steelers won four division titles and made the playoffs six times in total. Still, the Steelers won just three playoff games in an era that featured the offensive talent of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, to name a few. Pretty painful.