One of the things that defined the Steelers' rather glorious first 12 seasons at Heinz Field was a dominant record over visiting NFC teams.
You could make a case that this dominance was due to NFC teams being unfamiliar with the Steelers' tendencies thanks to only playing them every few years. One could also say that Pittsburgh was just plain good during most of those 12 seasons, and it was simply a coincidence. But, regardless of the reasons, the dominance over the senior conference for many years was clearly a thing.
From 2001-2012, the Steelers were 21-2-1 against NFC teams who traveled to Heinz Field; the average margin of victory for Pittsburgh was just over 13 points and included three shutouts and three other games where opponents were limited to just a field goal.
That's some pretty decent home-cooking served up twice a year. Yes, some opponents were doormats, such as the '01 Lions (2-14), the '05 Lions (5-11), the 2010 Panthers (2-14) and the 2011 Rams (2-14). However, what about the '05 Bears, a team that would go on to win the NFC North and strolled into Heinz Field one December afternoon, looking to be the final nail for Pittsburgh, who was on a three-game losing streak and on the outside looking in at the playoffs? Chicago may have walked into Heinz with a swagger, but Brain Urlacher and Co. limped away licking their wounds after a 21-9 beat-down by Jerome Bettis and Co.
What about a season earlier, when the Eagles came to town undefeated and flew away very much defeated, after a 27-3 thumping by Pittsburgh?
The Seahawks came to Heinz Field two times in five years following the supposed travesty that was them losing Super Bowl XL. Did they get any measure of revenge? No, and they didn't get one single point, either.
Of course, that was then and this is now, and Pittsburgh isn't the dominant team it once was. And maybe it's no coincidence that the Steelers have lost three of their past four home games against NFC teams and have looked mostly horrible in the process--including a season ago, when they were swept by their NFC opponents for the first time in the history of Heinz Field.
But, to reiterate, each season is different, and there are still reasonably high expectations for these 2015 Steelers, despite their Week 1 loss at New England last Thursday, and the quicker they can get their first victory, the better. It's time for Pittsburgh to re-establish its home-dominance over NFC teams, starting this Sunday against the 49ers, a team that went into Week 1 as the 24th best in the NFL, if you're to believe some power rankings. San Francisco is now 19th in ESPN's latest rankings after a 20-3 victory over the Vikings on Monday Night Football. Power rankings are simply cosmetic in-terms of their importance to NFL standings and just fodder for fans to talk about. However, they are an indication of what the experts think of a team's talent-level, which may be why Pittsburgh (0-1) sits six spots ahead of the 49ers (1-0), heading into Week 2.
Getting back to the Steelers' historic Heinz Field dominance over NFC opponents. Obviously, it has nothing to do with the team's current situation on defense. It won't help Pittsburgh stop running back Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota on Monday night. It won't help Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line deal with a San Francisco defense that, despite the offseason retirements of Christ Borland, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, was still stout enough to get after Vikings' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the tune of five sacks in Week 1.
But good teams are supposed to win home games against perceived inferior visitors like the 49ers squad coming into Heinz Field on Sunday, and that may be especially the case when it pertains to an NFC team with a new coaching staff and many new faces on the roster. The Steelers will have 10-days rest and will be facing a team traveling cross-country from four time zones away for a 1 p.m. kickoff, just six days after its previous game.
The Steelers might be without Le'Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Maurkice Pouncey, but they appear to have several other advantages on offense, starting with their franchise quarterback. Colin Kaepernick might be able to give Pittsburgh's much-maligned defense some fits with his athleticism, but he's certainly no Tom Brady.
And of all the advantages the Steelers may have over San Francisco (they are currently favored by 6 1/2 by some oddsmakers, which is the second-biggest point-spread heading into Week 2), maybe--in a professional sports world where road teams are always given the short end of the stick--travel and scheduling might be at the top of the list.
If the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers are the team many predicted they could be (they started the season seventh in ESPN's power rankings), Week 2 is where they should take care of business - and do so rather handily.