For the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014, a Week 12 bye will play one of two roles. It will either be the pin, or the grenade.
In each of their past two non-winning seasons, the Steelers drew early bye weeks - Week 4 in 2012 and Week 5 in 2013 - but the bye had different effects on each year.
In 2012, the early bye was originally perceived as a gift of time, allowing running back Rashard Mendenhall to rehab a torn ACL from the previous season. Mendenhall returned in the team's first game following the bye, but was lost again the following week. He ended up missing most of the season, including a voluntary absence, and eventually walked as a free-agent.
While the bye not only failed to benefit Mendenhall's health, it also did nothing to help Ben Roethlisberger's recovery from an SC joint injury which cost the QB three games and visibly altered his effectiveness in the last four contests following his return -- a slide which also cost the team any chance at the post-season.
In 2013, an early draw actually helped the team in the injury department. Heath Miller was recovering from a torn ACL of his own. Mike Adams was barely returned from an off-season stabbing. The team was struggling to get rookies and backups up to speed when starters Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote and others went down early.
The bye week itself even acted as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding of a win-less preseason and 0-4 start to the regular season. The team regrouped and went 8-4 the rest of the year riding momentum generated in the off week. Pittsburgh still failed to make the playoffs, although they were a bounce and a disallowed challenge closer than they were in 2012.
The last time the Steelers drew a late bye was in 2011. A week 11 draw provided rest during a 12-4 campaign. However, the extra rest failed to defend a Tim Tebow pass in the beginnings of the post-season.
There is little correlation between placement of the bye and general success. While a late bye can be perceived as more integral part of a 12-4 season, the Steelers posted the same record in 2010 despite a Week 5 bye. In 2010, Pittsburgh reached the Super Bowl.
The Steelers won a Super Bowl in 2005 with a Week 4 bye; although, a later bye could have been detrimental to the emotional roller-coaster ride the team took on the back of Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger and the defense.
In 2008, the next championship run, the Steelers had a prime bye draw in Week 8. While it helped grab a Lombardi trophy one season, it led to disaster in 2009. A 5-2 team entered that Week 8 bye, and emerged a self-destructive force to end the season at 9-7.
The Steelers have no pressing medical needs for an early bye week in 2014. On the injury front, the team should be looking forward to later rest, especially if nagging wounds begin to fester through the first eleven weeks. The biggest fear associated with a late-bye is the negative effect it can have on momentum.
Momentum may not be measurable with a ruler or a scale, but the Steelers have definitely seen enough of it over the past decade to prove its existence. The team rode its back in 2005, 2008 and even 2013 despite its drastically different output. The team also discovered its dark side in 2009 and 2012.
The team will want to generate its momentum for 2014 from the beginning. If the team stumbles out of the gate this year, not only will they be without the benefit of an early bye to regroup, but they would also have to maintain the momentum of any impending comeback through a late off-week.
For being a week with no actual game to play, Week 12 could wind up destroying any chance for post-season Pittsburgh success; or it could wind up being the tie that binds the whole season together. As the season plays on, the bye's role will become more defined. It will be interesting to see how the team responds.
The most dangerous opponent during a critical late-season stretch the Steelers will face in a pivotal 2014 campaign, could be themselves.