A lot has happened in the last seven years.
For starters, I've gone from a 38-year old man who dreaded turning 40, to a 45-year old man who doesn't think 40 was all that bad.
But one thing that hasn't happened over the past seven years is a post-season bye for your Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that improved to 8-2 after pasting the Titans, 40-17, Thursday night at Heinz Field.
After the Chiefs dropped to 6-4 following an ugly loss to the lowly Giants on Sunday, it now appears that the race for the AFC's top two seeds (and those precious byes) is a three-team gallop with just six weeks to go.
Not to sound like I'm one of those people who’s satisfied with second-best, but if someone offered me the deal right now, I'd sign my name in blood for that No. 2 spot.
I want to enjoy Wildcard Weekend in peace, that's why.
Week 11 was a small slice of heaven, as I sat around and watched football all day long. And I didn't have to concern myself with anything Steelers, since their impressive victory had long-since been savored and digested.
This is what Wildcard Weekend is like when your team is on a bye—only it's so much more glorious.
But when your team is involved in the wild-card round, which Pittsburgh has been the last four times it's made the playoffs (dating back to January 2012), you can't enjoy things as much.
Because of that churning in your stomach, that churning that signifies a huge battle is on the horizon for your favorite team, a battle that will either leave you euphoric or wanting to call in sick to work on Monday. Even if the Steelers play the late wild-card game on Sunday, I still have that anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach while I watch the first three games, as if I've just woken up on the morning of a scheduled colonoscopy.
And don't even get me started on those years when the Steelers don't make the playoffs, which happened most recently following the 2012 and 2013 seasons, years that—and I think I can safely say this now without being hit with rotten fruit—the team was in a bit of a rebuilding mode.
As it pertained to that 2013 season sans the postseason, how could I enjoy the wild-card-round, knowing the Steelers should have been the sixth seed embarrassing the Bengals in their own house, and not the Chargers?
I couldn't because Ryan Succop kept Pittsburgh out of the playoffs, when he missed a last-second field goal against San Diego in Week 17.
Back to those four most recent instances in which the Steelers had to play on Wildcard Weekend. Sure, they managed to advance on two of those occasions.
But those other two?
Pittsburgh lost to Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos following the 2011 season. And three years later, after roaring into the playoffs on a four-game winning-streak as AFC North Champions, the Steelers lost to those hated Ravens, who came into Heinz Field and toyed with Pittsburgh before exiting with a 30-17 win.
I don't want to have to deal with Wildcard Weekend this year—at least not emotionally.
I just want to sit back and enjoy the show, knowing the Steelers will have to face one of three teams in the divisional-round, depending on how things shake out.
I remember nine years ago, after sixth-seeded Baltimore knocked off the fraudulent Dolphins on Wildcard Weekend, I thought, "That's cute, Baltimore. Good luck with those top-seeded Titans."
Little did I know, the Ravens would go to Tennessee and ugly their way to a second-straight postseason victory, setting up an AFC North Showdown with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line (and little did I know how truly memorable that night would turn out to be).
That same Wildcard Weekend, as I watched the 9-7 Cardinals outlast what I thought was a much better Falcons squad, I said to myself, "Oh well, I guess it's going to be either the Giants or the Panthers making it out of the NFC."
Little did I know it would actually be those Cardinals who would be the NFC's representative in Super Bowl XLIII and go on to give Pittsburgh all it could handle.
Seven years ago, when the sixth-seeded Packers left Philadelphia with a first-round playoff win, I said, "Good luck with trying to repeat what Pittsburgh did in '05!"
Turned out, Green Bay did just that, by winning two more road playoff games before outclassing the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
For my money, there’s nothing like the NFL post-season, and when your team is on the bye, I believe that's how college football fans feel as they watch all those secondary bowl games in the days before their team plays in the National Championship Final Four (as a Pitt fan, I can only guess that's what it feels like).
Finally, while there certainly is nothing like the NFL playoffs, I want to enjoy the first round this year without any anxiety, regret or depression.
Wildcard Weekend is a blast, but it's even more fun when the Steelers are on a bye.