On Saturday night, the 4–6 Pittsburgh Maulers hosted a USFL playoff game, albeit in Canton, for the North Division championship. How a 4–6 team ends up as the number one seed in the division is a long story which I don’t have a detailed answer, but the simple answer is the South Division had all their teams with a better record than any team in the North Division.
If you’re at all like me, I haven’t seen a single snap of either the USFL or the XFL this NFL offseason. Maybe you’re not like me and watched as much as possible. It really doesn’t matter which way you prefer. But I would not have even known about the USFL playoffs, the Pittsburgh Maulers, or what was going on had did not been for Bryan Anthony Davis. But apparently the Pittsburgh Maulers won the USFL North Division with a 31–27 overtime victory and have moved he the championship game. To save you having to do a search in case you aren’t familiar with USFL overtime rules, each team is given as many as three 2-point conversion attempts on alternating possessions in order to win the game, much like an NHL shootout. With the Maulersr scoring on their first two conversions and holding the Michigan Panthers scoreless on both of their attemps, it’s sealed the victory.
So why am I talking about the Maulers? Didn’t I say I haven’t even watched a snap? To me, seeing another football team in black and gold designated with the name Pittsburgh (although it’s not where they play their games) win a playoff game just digs the knife in a little bit deeper. As most Steelers fans can tell you, particularly ones who are critical of the coaching staff, the Steelers have not won a playoff game since the 2016 NFL season.
The Steelers last playoff victory came in the Divisional Round of the 2016 NFL playoffs in Kansas City with an 18–16 victory with a Steelers won on six Chris Boswell field goals. It was the Steelers second postseason victory that year as they had defeated the Miami Dolphins 30–12 in the Wild Card round in Pittsburgh. But since that win over the Chiefs, the Steelers are 0–4 in the postseason. In the six seasons since the Steelers last won a postseason game, there have been 22 NFL teams with at least one playoff victory and 14 teams winning multiple games.
While I’m a person who understands that only as many as eight teams can win a playoff game each season, and it could be as few as six if the teams who have a bye are defeated in the Divisional Round, it’s still doesn’t take away the sting of the past six seasons. While between six and eight teams make the playoffs every year and exit without a victory, we are still talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now that every team in the AFC North has won a playoff game since the Steelers last victory, the reality of the situation can’t be denied.
So how does this mindset translate moving forward? While it is frustrating the Steelers haven’t won a playoff game in so long, are they poised to be a team that does so anytime soon? Are they one of the top eight teams in the NFL, or even one of the top four in the AFC? Because this is what it takes to have a playoff win and be one of the four teams remaining in the conference. While there are some Steelers fans that looked at last season as being a failure because the team still didn’t win a playoff game, was the first season in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era where they expected that to change? It’s a process of getting back to that level and the Steelers seem to be ahead of schedule.
So will the 2023 NFL season bring the Steelers that elusive postseason victory? That’s why we watch and that’s why they play the games. Although some fans have a ridiculous expectation that a Wild Card victory doesn’t even count, which means the Steelers would have to be in the top two of the AFC for it to be anything successful, my expectations are more on the growth side and would love to see the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game but I don’t expect it... yet.
Looking at the Steelers lack of playoff wins over the last six seasons does not mean much for this team in 2023. I just want to look forward and see continued growth where hopefully those accomplishments are on the horizon sooner rather than later.
But giving credit where it’s due, congratulations to the
Canton Pittsburgh Maulers on their playoff victory and best of luck in whatever the version of the USFL championship game is whenever it is played.