There are many unknowns involving the 2013 Steelers as they prepare for another hot summer of training camp in Latrobe, Pa. This is the case for most NFL teams each and every offseason, but for Pittsburgh, a team that's clearly in transition after an 8-8 campaign that included no playoffs for the first time in three seasons, the unknowns and uncertainties may be more pronounced than any year in recent memory.
However, one thing we can all take comfort in is the fact that the NFL is the ultimate parity lead, and we need not look any further for proof than the annual playoff field, where several teams who missed out on the postseason the previous year find themselves among the 12 teams with a shot to play in the Super Bowl.
Thanks to the Rams SB Nation site, Turf Show Times, who wrote a piece about this very subject and referenced an article by St. Louis Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz, we can see that no fewer than five new teams have made the playoffs each year dating back to 2008 alone. Overall, of the 60 teams which have made the playoffs the past five seasons, 28 of those teams (or 46 percent) missed the dance the previous year.
Steelers fans are probably more aware of this playoff parity than most. Pittsburgh previously missed the playoffs in '03, '06 and '09 but answered each of those postseason absences by playing some January football the following year. In fact, the Steelers haven't missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since they did so from 1998-2000.
But, of course, that's just an NFL trend and has nothing to do with the current Steelers and their many unknowns.
NFL playoff parity has nothing to do with how Pittsburgh's offense will perform under second year OC Todd Haley, nor does it have anything to do with the defense's inability to take the football away in recent years (35 turnovers forced over the past two seasons).
Playoff trends have nothing to do with the injury bug that has bitten the Steelers big-time in recent years--including notable lengthy absences by Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor.
The annual NFL playoff turnover has nothing to do with the free agent defections of Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall and Keenan Lewis, nor does it have anything to do with the release of James Harrison and whether or not Jason Worilds or Jarvis Jones can adequately replace the former DPOY.
Just because there's an NFL trend that says nearly half the annual playoff field is made up of new teams doesn't mean the 2013 Steelers will find themselves in the dance; but every team that misses the playoffs heads into the following season with similar unknowns and questions that Pittsburgh must deal with this year.
The Colts had a record of 2-14 in 2011, and after the season, decided to make sweeping personnel changes to their front office, coaching staff and roster--including the release of Peyton Manning after 14 Hall of Fame seasons. Indianapolis started over with a new head coach in Chuck Pagano and a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck. Conventional wisdom would tell you the Colts should have struggled in 2012, but instead, they made the playoffs with an 11-5 record.
The 2011 Vikings finished just ahead of the Colts with a dismal 3-13 record. In addition to the poor record, star running back Adrian Peterson was lost near the end of the season with a torn ACL. Heading into the 2012 campaign with the uncertainty surrounding Peterson's injury and with a second year quarterback in Christian Ponder, a playoff berth probably seemed too abstract for most Vikings fans to even comprehend. But Peterson defied all odds by not only quickly bouncing back from such a serious knee injury, he rushed for nearly 2100 yards and led Minnesota to a 10-6 record and a trip to the playoffs.
No. Playoff parity has nothing to do with the 2013 Steelers, the unknowns they must flesh out and the questions they must find answers to, but it's as good a place as any to find hope and optimism as the boys head to St. Vincent College later this week.
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