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Steelers left to wonder "what if" after watching the Broncos advance to Super Bowl 50

The Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to watch Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos advance to Super Bowl 50 after defeating the New England Patriots, and wondering "What if".

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For many members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they spent Sunday January 24th in front of their television watching football, like most Americans. But for the team who just a week ago was about 10 minutes away from punching their ticket to the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, they were forced to watch the Denver Broncos not just playing, but defeating Tom Brady and company on their way to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara.

For most Steelers fans, any chance to watch Bill Belichick and Brady lose is a worthwhile event, but on this day fans and players alike were left wondering "What if".

What if Fitzgerald Toussaint didn't fumble to football in the fourth quarter of the divisional game?

What if Emmanuel Sanders didn't break up that Peyton Manning pass which was headed directly for William Gay's waiting arms?

What if Antonio Brown had been available to play on that 3rd and 4th and 5 in the waning minutes of the game?

What if the play call on the defensive side of the ball would have gotten to Brandon Boykin on time and he would have been able to break up the 3rd and 12 completion?

This game could go on forever, but unfortunately there is no way around it. This feeling won't go away for a long time for all involved, and Ben Roethlisberger and company will have to chew on this for at least another two weeks until the Broncos and Carolina Panthers square off in the biggest athletic event of the year.

With the feelings not going away anytime soon, how the Steelers respond to such emotion will be a true test of their mettle and grit. Some teams in their situation have hung their heads and moped regarding what could have been, while others have used it to fuel the fire to get better and prove themselves as worthy next season.

Only those inside the Steelers headquarters can truly gauge how the team will bounce back from the playoff loss, but if there is a team who has the roster to make some waves in 2016 it would be the Steelers.

Just look at the big time players who will be returning next season on both sides of the football: Ben Roethlisberger, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ryan Shazier, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons, Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones and Mike Mitchell.

Sure, there are some areas which need upgrading, but for the most part this team has the looks of a serious contender as they head into an offseason which should be brimming with optimism. Nonetheless, it won't change the thoughts and wonder of "what if" when looking back at the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers season and how it played itself out.