There probably isn’t a time in NFL history in which a post-draft description of a team didn’t include the phrase “just got better”, or some derivation thereof. You naturally expect to get better when you add a bunch of college players that you believe in, and until they prove you wrong, you’re bound to feel good—or at least confident that you didn’t make things worse.
The view of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2023 NFL Draft class, however, has met with some effusively positive takes about how much they were able to improve key areas of the roster. And internally, they’re going to believe that they are contender now, if they didn’t already. That’s the goal for tight end Pat Freiermuth, who is tired of watching teams like Kansas City hosting playoff games.
“I want to win a Super Bowl”, he told Cameron Heyward on the Not Just Football podcast when asked what his goal were for the upcoming season. “Just seeing the Chiefs and the Eagles compete and everything leading up to that in the playoffs, I just want to be a part of meaningful games in Pittsburgh and play a home playoff game in Pittsburgh. Nothing better, they’re the best fans in the world”.
While the Steelers haven’t been wholly absent from the postseason, having made it two years in a row before narrowly missing it last season, Pittsburgh hasn’t hosted many NFL playoff games in recent years, and the ones they have hosted haven’t turned out very well.
Pittsburgh went a surprising 13-3 in 2017 and held the second seed in the AFC, which at the time still provided the team with a first-round bye. After sitting idle for a week, they hosted the rising Jacksonville Jaguars, who subsequently dominated them for much of the game before holding off a late surge to claim a 45-42 win. Pittsburgh’s final points came via a touchdown with no time remaining just to make it a one-score game.
More recently, they had an even more colossal collapse at the end of the 2020 season. Having gone 12-4 in the regular season to claim the AFC North, the Steelers hosted the Cleveland Browns, who were in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The visiting team took a 28-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, beginning with a recovered fumble for a touchdown on the opening play due to a bad snap.
The Steelers still made it somewhat respectable by the end in the 48-37 loss, but it’s been some time since they’ve proven capable of competing in the postseason, having surrendered 40-plus points in their past three games.
The Steelers have not won a postseason game since the 2016 season, defeating the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild-Card Round and then the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round before meeting their match against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
There isn’t a player on this roster who has even participated in a Steelers Super Bowl, let alone won one, their last appearance being in 2010. That’s what Freiermuth wants to be a part of—what he wants for the fans to experience. How close is this roster to making a postseason run? Is it feasible for 2023?