The Steelers sit on the edge of the postseason, playing a meaningful, yet bleak, Week 17 game against Cleveland that has a slight chance of resulting in a game next week.
Win and they clinch a non-losing record. Three other losses, and they play in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs.
That won't prevent many from getting a head start on the postseason post-mortem analysis of 2013. Even offensive coordinator Todd Haley appears to have let a thought of what could have been enter his mind.
In speaking with the media Thursday, Haley was asked about his team's No Huddle offense, the strategy that has contributed to an offensive awakening in Pittsburgh. The team has used it more as the season has progressed, resulting in a 29.8 points per game average over their last eight games - not coincidentally, the Steelers are 5-3 in that stretch.
""We had big plans for the no-huddle coming into the season," Haley said, as quoted by ESPN's Scott Brown.
Those plans were likely derailed when center Maurkice Pouncey went down for the year on the first drive of the season. A captain and most experienced offensive lineman, the time needed to train up his replacement, freshly acquired Fernando Velasco, was a bit too much to expect to use it early in the year.
Velasco went down for the year in Week 13, and Cody Wallace took over in Week 14.
It's hard not to think if all the time invested in the offense with Pouncey would have produced similar results over the course of a full season. The Steelers had eight plays with him under center - yielding zero points.
While the defense has had its share of struggles at various points, similar kinds of issues have affected it as a unit. Ultimately, it's not a surprise to see them staring their first losing season with Ben Roethlisberger under center squarely in the eye, but a win Sunday, along with another 29-plus point performance, would establish some pretty good momentum heading into next year.
And a healthy Pouncey may be the key to keeping that average going over 16 games.
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