"This time of year, you're as good as your record says you are."
I don't know if that is the exact wording of that phrase, but you get the point.
If a football team finishes the regular season with a 13-3 record, as the Steelers did in 2017, then that team is what its record says it is.
Or is it?
Co-hosting a post-game show for 17 weeks gave me some habits.
One of those habits was saying—in many different and creative ways—"Oh, get out of here! You're crazy! This team is (insert great record at various points of the season here)!"
In other words, despite the Steelers record that was quite good from beginning to end, I found myself having to reassure callers (or, perhaps, more accurately, myself?) they were a damn good football team, one capable of beating anyone at any time.
And Pittsburgh really was good enough to do those things on a weekly basis, which it did.
After all, 13-3 is 13-3.
But maybe there are varying degrees of 13-3, and the Steelers version had more to do with guts and clutch than it did with sheer dominance.
Why do I say that?
Because, of Pittsburgh's 13 wins, eight were by less than a touchdown. Also, only two were by 21 points or more—a 40-17 victory over the Titans in Week 10, and a 34-6 thrashing of the Texans on Christmas Day.
And, really, if you go back and watch the two lopsided victories, only the win in Houston could truly be categorized as a blowout.
It sure was fun watching the team escape with one last-second victory after another—four games were decided by the toe of kicker Chris Boswell over a five-week span. But when you're right there in the middle of it, experiencing those triumphs in the moment, you perhaps don't notice (or simply ignore) the warts that are causing so many heart-stopping finishes.
Don't get me wrong, the NFL isn't known for its parity for nothing, and it's quite irrational to expect even half of a team's wins to be blowouts.
But shouldn't a truly great team dominate its opponents more than once or twice over the course of a season?
In the days after the Steelers' season came to an end at the hands of the Jaguars in the divisional playoffs, at least a few people described Pittsburgh as a 10 or 11 win team that managed to win 13 games.
This gave me pause, because the last two seasons I legitimately thought the Steelers won a few more games than perhaps they deserved—1997 and 2011—the ensuing years weren't so pretty.
Fortunately, I think the difference between the current Steelers' team and the ones from the late-90's and early-10's is talent.
Pittsburgh may have escaped with a few wins that could have easily wound up in the "L" column in 2017, but there's no questioning the amount of All-Pro and Pro Bowl performers, as evidenced by the many players who were decorated with such honors this season.
Unlike those aforementioned eras, these Steelers will likely be a force to be reckoned with for a least a few more years.
Perhaps the reason Ben Roethlisberger struggled so much early in 2017 had more to do with playing so many games away from Heinz Field, and less to do with not having "it" anymore.
Maybe Le'Veon Bell's slow start to the year had more to do with off-season groin surgery than it did with holding out of training camp, or having wheels that were about to fall off.
Or maybe it was just one of those crazy years, where the team—this superbly-talented team—simply couldn't get out of its own way.
Do the Steelers have it in them to win 13 games again in 2018?
That remains to be seen but, again, going on talent alone, their record should be a lot closer to dominant than it will be to mediocre—regardless of how they get there.