Happy holidays, Steeler Nation!
Along with the festive holiday mood you're probably in right now, if you're reading this, that means you're more-than-likely a Steelers fan. And since the NFL playoffs actually feel like an extended-version of the holiday season, you're festive mood is probably boosted a bit with the warm and comfy feeling of Pittsburgh's first playoff berth in three years.
Also, since the Steelers will win the AFC North title with a victory over Cincinnati this Sunday evening in the last game of the 2014 regular season, you're probably pretty excited about your upcoming post-Christmas and pre-New Year's weekend-festivities.
If the Steelers do win the title on Sunday Night Football at Heinz Field, it will be the first time they've clinched a division in their final regular season game since December 16, 1984, when they escaped the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a 13-7 victory over the Raiders to claim the old AFC Central Division crown with a 9-7 record.
The last time Pittsburgh had a chance to capture a division title with a final regular season victory was on December 30, 1990, when the team traveled to the old Houston Astrodome to face and Oilers unit, missing franchise quarterback Warren Moon, who was out with a serious injury. The Steelers had the number one defense in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference, and they would be facing fairly unproven backup quarterback, Cody Carlson.
Pittsburgh was actually a two-point favorite for the game, and the fans were feeling pretty confident about their team's chances.
Unfortunately, the little-used Carlson threw for three touchdowns in a 34-14 beat-down, and the Steelers not only failed to win the Central, their 9-7 record wasn't good enough for a second-straight wildcard entrant into the postseason, as the Bengals took the division and the Oilers claimed the sixth seed.
If you read my 1990 summary, just now, your festive mood may have been ruined a bit, because, being a fan, you're more-than-likely aware of Pittsburgh's chance to claim the 2011 AFC North crown with a final regular season victory over the Browns on January 1, 2012.
While it is true the Steelers could have won a division title that day, they also needed help in the form of a Baltimore loss to the Bengals, which didn't happen. In other words, Pittsburgh faced a scenario similar to what the Ravens face this weekend just to even make the playoffs--a win and a loss by someone else. Fortunately, much like the 2014 version, the Steelers were still guaranteed a playoff spot and a fifth seed regardless of what happened on the other side of Ohio at Paul Brown Stadium.
While the current Steelers don't head into their final regular season match-up with the same heightened urgency as the '84 squad (much like the '90 team, had Pittsburgh lost its final game, the postseason wouldn't have been possible), maybe it's fitting they can commemorate the 30 year anniversary with a division title.
Like the 2014 Steelers, the '84 edition wasn't taken very seriously as a true contender. And who could blame folks for that? After all, similar to this year's team, which lost games to the Buccaneers (2-13) and Jets (3-12), in '84, Pittsburgh fell to the Browns (5-11), Colts (4-12) and Oilers (3-13).
Yet, when the smoke had cleared, not only were the Steelers AFC Central champs, they even managed to win a game in the postseason and were one victory away from the Super Bowl.
It's going to be a ton of fun watching the Steelers try and capture the AFC North this Sunday (it would be their 21st division title since 1972). But it's going to be even more fun knowing their task won't be as difficult as the 2011 squad's, nor will the consequences of a loss be as dire as both the '84 and '90 teams.