Much has been made over the past five seasons about the Steelers lack of a playoff victories since their win against the New York Jets in the 2011 AFC Championship game. Even more has been made about the Steelers' amount of one-and-done playoff seasons under head coach Mike Tomlin.
The playoffs have been either boom or bust under Tomlin; in each 2007, 2011 and 2014 playoff seasons, Pittsburgh has lost in the first round of the playoffs. The other two playoff appearances have resulted in Pittsburgh making one of their eight appearances in the Super Bowl.
While Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals have their own playoff curse in effect, the Bengals haven't won a single postseason game since 1991, the Steelers have their own playoff problems with a single factor that has applied to each of their previous three losses in the wild card round since 2007.
In each of those three seasons of 2007, 2011 and 2014, Pittsburgh lost their starting running back shortly before the postseason began, much like how DeAngelo Williams will be out for tomorrow's game against the Bengals.
In 2007, Willie Parker broke his leg in week 16 and the team lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home. In 2011, Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in week 17 before the Steelers would lose in overtime to the Denver Broncos. Last season the team lost Le'Veon Bell in week 17 to a knee injury with no viable backup after LeGarrette Blount was released for quitting on the team earlier in the season.
This year, Pittsburgh must yet again face the same problem that has proven insurmountable in years prior. The loss of DeAngelo Williams just before the playoffs unfortunately fits the mold of each of the three previous seasons when the Steelers have faced wild card opponents and lost. Tomorrow's game becomes a question as to which team will be able to overcome their previous trends that have led to early postseason departures.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, this has been the most loaded offense the team has had in each of these other circumstances. While the team will have to rely on a running back that has a successful past with the team, it will do so with a lot less necessity as it has a passing attack unlike any other season. Antonio Brown is the undisputed best wide receiver in the NFL, teamed up with a sharp route-running and consistent Markus Wheaton, as well as the extremely athletic Martavis Bryant. While all three of these players were present last season, neither of their skills or chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger were at the level that they have shown this season.
Roethlisberger has struggled the past two games and has committed turnovers in each of his past four games, but this should not alarm fans as far as trends. Both of the previous seasons in which Roethlisberger has been part of a Super Bowl season have featured week 17 appearances which he has committed turnovers (including 2008 when he was also injured and forced to leave the field on a cart). While these types of trends do not dictate outcomes, they do signal that just because a player may have struggled in certain weeks, does not mean he will continue those trends into the playoffs.
Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger have had to hear about playoff losses for four straight years and face a task of a divisional rival who won the AFC North in the first round. A win would snap the trend and allow the Steelers to follow a familiar path in the playoffs, winning the wild card in Cincinnati and then facing Peyton Manning in his home stadium in the divisional round.