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Is 2020 really Super Bowl or bust for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

There have been high expectations placed on the Steelers entering 2020, but is it really Super Bowl or bust?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The first Super Bowl I distinctly remember is Super Bowl XL in 2006 when I was seven years old. Living in Virginia at the time, my main priority was to enjoy the night with my buddies since my parents had told me I wouldn’t have to go to school the next morning. I hardly remember the implications of Antwaan Randle-El receiving a sweeping hand off from Willie Parker and running to his right, dropping a dime to Hines Ward to push the lead to two scores.

Clinching a fifth Super Bowl didn’t mean much to me, and clinching a sixth just a few years later, while exciting, wasn’t the seismic event that it would be today. Don’t get me wrong, I was the first to brag my favorite team boasted the most Super Bowls in NFL history, but I can’t say I was truly a football fan.

If we’re being honest, a bad reaction to some wings at my parents Super Bowl party left me bedridden from the majority of my parents’ Super Bowl 45 party. Regrettably, my only subsequent appearance was a white-faced cameo to see who was named Super Bowl MVP.

By Super Bowl XLV, well, we don’t speak it of it now. Regardless, I’ve been fortunate enough to have witnessed three Super Bowl appearances in my lifetime, so I really can’t complain.

However, it has been a while now...

Entering the 2020 season, a season which is poised to be unlike any other in NFL history, after winning eight games with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, the return of Ben Roethlisberger has led to some wondering whether the Steelers are Super Bowl contenders.

Is it truly Super Bowl or bust in 2020? Or rather, what actually defines a successful season?

While last season kind of served as a “prove the Dolphins wrong and not give them a top 10 pick” kind of year, any recent season without a Super Bowl title at the end has been considered a failure to much of the fan base. Considering Roethlisberger will be playing in his age-38 season and the overall excellence of the defense, the window for winning a seventh Super Bowl is seemingly reaching its apex.

However, Big Ben told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com Tuesday, Aug. 4 that he still wants to win Lombardis, with an ‘s’. So, if Roethlisberger’s timeline is to be believed, and everything goes according to plan health-wise, the Steelers have multiple Super Bowl shots with No. 7 still calling the shots under center.

If that’s the case, is 2020 still Super Bowl or bust? If the Steelers can put together a good season, say 12-4 and string together a couple playoff wins, and gear up for 2021 with a strong shot, is that a bad season?

Well, a couple of factors may go into determining just how good a season 2020 really is.

I would be remiss to dismiss the threat of COVID-19 and the potential chaos it may cause the duration of the season. Assuming the NFL perfectly handles the situation, we’ll move on to the on-field factors that may determine how good a season the Steelers have.

2020 appears to be a sort of transition season, if that transition didn’t already happen during the Super Bowl trophy celebration last season, between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. Apart from the Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens appear to be the class of the American Football Conference next season.

The Buffalo Bills, please don’t make us all look bad, appear to be the team to beat in the East, and the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans will likely fill a division winner and wild card spot. You know what that means?

The Steelers are making it as a the fifth seed in the AFC. Yes, there are some decent teams in the AFC, looking at you Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Patriots (and the sleeper who will come out of nowhere), but if the Steelers miss the playoffs in 2020, it’s obviously a busted season.

Assuming it’s:

1. Chiefs
2. Ravens
3. Titans
4. Bills

Pittsburgh will meet up with the Bills during Wild Card weekend, and a loss would, again, lead to a busted season. So, again, a multi-game run through the playoffs in 2020 is needed to consider the season at least a little bit successful.

With the 2021 season giving teams like the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots (because you can’t hold them down for too long) enough time to reload, and the Ravens and Lamar Jackson not going anywhere, the playoff pictures in a couple years suddenly seems rather crowded.

2020 seems like a prime spot for the Steelers to push for the last Super Bowl of the Big Ben era of Steelers football. 2021 and 2022 aren’t impossible by any means, those odds may even be pretty solid, but with the way next season is shaping up, 2020 seems like the time to do it.

Which, however you want to look at it, leads to a Super Bowl or bust mentality.