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The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the dance, now they have their chance

The notion that the Steelers were the team nobody wanted to play in the postseason began to pick up momentum near the end of the season. Now, after getting a second chance at the playoffs and a wild card date with the Bengals this Saturday night, everyone will get to find out for sure.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Sports fans are often prone to talk in absolutes, especially after the fact, when something that didn't happen would have certainly changed the outcome of something that actually did happen.

Confused? Yeah, me too, but since Steelers fans certainly aren't immune to this phenomenon, I'll offer up some examples.

Did you know Pittsburgh would have won at least five more Super Bowls had Dan Marino been drafted in the first round in 1983? About two years later, when San Francisco was having its way with Marino and the rest of the Dolphins in a 38-16 blood-letting in Super Bowl XIX, the Steelers surely would have won that game had they been able to get past Miami in the AFC Championship game, instead of getting blown-out, 45-28. Why? It's simple, Pittsburgh was the only team to defeat the 49ers in 1984, so naturally, you add one plus one, and you get one for the thumb. And, of course, who can forget the Mona Lisa of absolutes? The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that would have been the first (and only) to win three-straight Super Bowls, had Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier not gotten injured in the divisional playoff win over the Colts and were able to play against the Raiders in the AFC Championship game. Had the legendary backfield duo been able to go, the Steelers would have surely won and gone on to demolish the Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Actually, the part about the Vikings is probably true; Minnesota couldn't win Super Bowls in the '70s, despite making them all the time. However, the Raiders were a very talented cast of crazy characters in 1976 and were also pretty determined to get past Pittsburgh in the playoffs, after failing to do so three other times--including back-to-back losses in the AFC title game. Besides, Franco and Rocky played offense, so even if they were healthy, they probably wouldn't have prevented Oakland from totaling 157 yards on the ground.

The Steelers may have lost the conference title three-match against Oakland, 24-7, but that didn't prevent the '76 squad from earning the title of Greatest Team in Franchise History, which means the organization kind of won five Super Bowls in the '70s. (The 2016 regular season marks the 40th anniversary of the honor, so maybe the Rooneys will commemorate it with a uniform patch.)

Moving on to the 2015 season and the notion that Pittsburgh is the Team Nobody Wants To Play In The Postseason; this distinction began to pick-up momentum as the Steelers rebounded from their injury-filled 4-4 start to win five out of six games to improve to 9-5 and looked pretty dangerous with the postseason closing-in fast. In-fact, as Pittsburgh was putting the finishing-touches on a 34-27 come-from-behind victory over the Broncos on December 20 at Heinz Field, my brother texted: "They don't want us in the playoffs. They don't want us, baby!" (I'm still not sure if he meant the current playoff field or the '66 Packers.)

The next day, Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an article about the much-maligned secondary and how, thanks to its underwhelming performance against Brock Osweiler and the rest of Denver's offense in the first half, the Steelers playoff chances seemed very much in jeopardy at intermission:

"They believed, somehow, that even though the Broncos had converted all eight third down situations in a first half that ended with DeMaryius Thomas stiff-arming Antwon Blake into one of three rivers on the touchdown that made it 27-10, that they could scuttle that momentum long enough for their offense to find its booming voice. They believed it. But did anyone else? Because they'd just spent the entire first half as the primary evidence for why the Steelers, the so-called Team Nobody Wants to Play in the Postseason, were much closer to the Team Nobody Has To Play In The Postseason."

I included much more than needed for context, but it was the Nobody Has To Play part that had me rolling as I read the article at work. Of course, at that time, with the Steelers in total control of  their playoff fate and facing the four-win Ravens and three-win Browns to end the season, I didn't think there was any way a postseason spot could slip away.

But  then the Steelers lost to Baltimore and the Jets defeated New England to muddy the waters after Week 16. Just like that, Pittsburgh's playoff control was gone, and I feared I'd have to spend the next 30 years reading and hearing about how the 2015 Steelers would surely have won the Super Bowl had they made the playoffs, since, you know, nobody wanted to play them in the 2015 playoffs.

It would have been hard to blame people for talking in absolutes, truthfully. After all, what about the Bengals' quarterback uncertainty? Denver's, too. What about the mediocre AFC South champion Texans, and those suddenly ordinary-looking Patriots?

Thankfully, after everything worked out for them in Week 17,  I won't have to ask "what if?" regarding the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers; they'll get their chance to prove their worth--their explosiveness on offense--in the upcoming postseason.

Like several Steelers said after a 28-12 victory at Cleveland on Sunday that, along with a loss by the Jets at Buffalo, clinched the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, "We're in the dance, and that's all that matters." Okay, that's not necessarily true. I mean, a division title would have been nice; a bye would have been heavenly. That way,  the Steelers could have been the Team Nobody Wants to Play In The Postseason At The Bitterly Cold Stadium With All Those Terrible Towels Waving.

But being in the dance is better than sitting at home, especially when you have at least the second prettiest quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and certainly the sexiest wide receiver in Antonio Brown. The Steelers might be party crashers this year and will be a road team for the duration of their postseason run, but aren't you glad you get to see if Pittsburgh can break its five year streak of playoff futility by extending the Bengals' to a quarter of a century this Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium? If that comes to pass, there will be a trip to Denver and perhaps a date with an aging Peyton Manning, a match-up that will surely bring many more comparisons to the magical Super Bowl XL run 10 seasons earlier.

If those two things happen....well, you know how the rest of the story could unfold.

Maybe the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers really are the Team Nobody Wants To Play In The Postseason.

Now at least we get to find out.