It's an easy, if not hopeful, storyline to compare the 2005 Steelers, who won their final four games that year to capture a wild card spot, and eventually, ride that momentum to a Super Bowl championship. Perhaps the most notable difference is the fact the team that preceded the 2005 Steelers went 15-1 and won a playoff game, while the 2013 Steelers had to win six of their final eight games to finish at .500.
Looking past that, the stage is certainly set. Both teams found themselves at 7-5 after 12 games, and this year's squad sits a game away from the same four-game winning streak to end the season their 2005 Super counterparts had. The 2014 squad would win a division championship with that fourth win, though. The 2005 team clinched a wild card berth and had to travel to Cincinnati for a first-round game.
Should the Bengals defeat Pittsburgh on Sunday, they'll grab the No. 3 seed in the AFC, the same as 2005, but the Steelers, with a loss, would travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts, like they did in the divisional round in 2005, after they knocked off the Bengals.
There is, of course, the "Win for the Bus" narrative (did you know he was from Detroit?). Of the players who could possibly retire after the season, none are from Arizona, the site of this year's Super Bowl. Perhaps it's a good thing we wouldn't have to hear that, should the Steelers make such an improbable run.
Still, 2014 has the same seemingly invincible AFC No. 1 seed. The Patriots, minus a slight set-back in losing to the Packers at home just a few weeks ago, appear to be the consensus pick in the AFC, along with the likely second-seeded Broncos, who were in that same position in 2005. The Steelers, with a loss Sunday, would head to Indianapolis, and with a win there, would likely take on the top-seeded Patriots. A win by the sixth seed - likely either San Diego or Baltimore over the Bengals - along with a win by the Steelers over the Colts, would send the Steelers to Denver to take on Peyton Manning, the disgruntled quarterback who threw his offensive line under the bus after Joey Porter drug him around the RCA Dome turf in 2005.
Odd, even humorous, parallels between the two teams.
Getting into the specifics, the 2005 Steelers' offense was a run-heavy group and relied on the well-timed passing efforts of second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to get them through the regular season. The script was flipped in the playoffs, with Roethlisberger being used as a primary weapon. This year's Steelers offense is more dynamic and explosive, with a deeper group of receivers and a better all-around running back.
The defense, though, looks generally similar. The 2005 Steelers boasted the league's third-ranked run defense, but was 16th against the pass. Through 15 games, the Steelers are sixth against the run this year and 27th against the pass.
That likely can be defined by the 2005 version of Troy Polamalu compared to the 2014 version.
Rookie defensive players didn't get on the field nearly as often as they are now, and the 2005 Steelers' secondary was much better as well. Overall though, the Steelers' offense this year is what its defense was in 2005 - it led the team and it was the area on which the Steelers could count to close games out. The Steelers' offense has had key clock-killing drives in each of their last five wins - and it managed to score 27 points or more in four of those five games.
The 2005 Steelers' defense allowed an average of 10.8 points a game in their final five wins.
This is more a whimsical look at two teams that are, by and large, not comparable due to dozens of factors, none of which probably more important than the game being vastly different now than it was then. The same theory of momentum exists for both teams, however. Pittsburgh is one of the few NFL cities where a 7-5 record is deemed unacceptable. The fact both teams managed to rise above that lowly (ahem) state speaks to the heart and character of a team, not to mention rising to meet what was perhaps their more realistic end goal.
The key for this year's squad is meeting that same 11-5 mark. Grabbing a division championship now isn't an obstacle to making the playoffs, but it does give a young team the foundation on which it can build confidence on their future success. Several players from that 2005 Super Bowl championship team were around when they won again in 2008, and another select group of them were on the AFC Championship team in 2010.
Maybe that's the most important point here.