Steelers must look to past to succeed in playoffs

AP Photo - Cincinnati Bengals' Vontaze Burfict (55) runs into Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown (84) during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh won 18-16. Burfict was called for a penalty on the play. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

AP Photo – Cincinnati Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict (55) runs into Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown (84) during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh won 18-16. Burfict was called for a penalty on the play. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

By Julian Routh | Editor-In-Chief

“Unbelievable and almost unprecedented.”

That’s what sportswriters deemed the 2005 Super Bowl run by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who pulled off three-straight road playoff wins en route to their 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

Ten years later and here we are again, in a scenario so similar that it should give Steelers fans hope that a seventh ring isn’t out of question. In fact, this year’s Steelers team — assuming that Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown can stave off injuries long enough — has an even better chance at a title.

Both playoff runs started in the wild-card round with heated, unconventional wins over the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals and their back up quarterbacks. In 2005, it was an early knee injury to then-Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer that propelled the Black & Gold to victory. This past Saturday night, it was two boneheaded Bengals penalties in the game’s final minute that set up an easy winning field goal for the Steelers.

This could be luck or coincidence, sure.

But the Steelers’ matchup against the Denver Broncos this Sunday in the Divisional Round looks eerily similar to 2005’s showdown with the Indianapolis Colts.

In both games, there’s Peyton Manning at quarterback on the other side of the field. A decade ago, it was the Manning with a chip on his shoulder, hungry for his first Super Bowl win. This week, it’s the same Manning, trying to prove he can still play at an elite level at 39 years old.

The Steelers narrowly squeaked by the Colts in ’05 thanks to a shanked last-second field goal by Mike Vanderjagt, but their defense held Manning in check for most of the game.

Shockingly, this year’s Steelers defense is only moderately worse than Dick LeBeau’s ’05 defense. According to Pro Football Reference’s simple rating system, the two defenses are practically the same in effectiveness, but differ in real statistical categories like points allowed.

And this year’s Manning? He hasn’t started a game since Nov. 15, when he was benched after throwing his 15th, 16th and 17th interceptions of the season.

A Steelers win this Sunday would set up a Conference Championship matchup against the New England Patriots or Kansas City Chiefs. Both teams are statistically weaker than the ’05 Broncos were — a team that Pittsburgh beat to advance to the Super Bowl.

Though matchups play a crucial role in deciding a team’s playoff fate, its statistical makeup is often more important.

With Roethlisberger and Brown healthy — along with running back DeAngelo Williams, who is doubtful for Sunday’s game — the Steelers have the league’s most dangerous offense.

Roethlisberger, who missed four games with a knee injury this year and in ’05, is seemingly getting better with age; his completion percentage in the regular season was higher than it was in ’05, and he nearly doubled his yards per game. And Brown caught an insurmountable 136 passes for 10 touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards.

If Brown is sidelined Sunday under the league’s concussion protocol, receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are certainly qualified to carry the workload. Their numbers in the regular season surpassed those of Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El in the ’05 campaign.

Winning three straights games on the road in the NFL Playoffs is certainly a formidable task, but the Steelers have been there and done that. With a little bit of luck — and lots of production — history can repeat itself.

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