When it comes to continuity in the National Football League, few have it more down pat than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three head coaches since 1969, more regular-season wins than any team since the merger in 1970, a record-tying eight Super Bowl appearances and an unprecedented six Super Bowl titles.
Yet things were never quite right for Mike Tomlin's team. Injuries and erratic play were the lowlights of an 8-8 season, the first non-winning campaign for the Steelers' current head coach.
Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers will reach the playoffs for the third time in four seasons…
If: The team can avoid the sloppy play that plagued the Black and Gold during the second half of 2012. Tomlin's club committed 21 turnovers over a six-game span, three of those without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger but three of them with him at the helm. All told, Pittsburgh committed 30 turnovers in 16 regular-season games. And while they didn't lose all of them, only the Eagles (37) fumbled the ball more than the Steelers (33) this past season.
And: The team's much-maligned offensive line comes together, which has been easier said than done in recent seasons. Last April, the Steelers used their first two picks in the draft to add guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams. But the former missed the majority of the season and Adams, also banged up on occasion, struggled when he was available. Both are penciled in as starters once again and along with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, left guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert, this unit needs to gel sooner than later.
But: If Pittsburgh continues to struggle when it comes to making the big play on defense, giving up the fewest yards in the league won't matter too much. In each of the past two seasons, the Steelers have been ranked first in the NFL in total defense. But Tomlin's team has totaled only 35 takeaways in its last 32 regular-season contests. Flash back to 2010, when Pittsburgh forced 35 turnovers in 16 games en route to the team's appearance in Super Bowl XLV.
So what do you think? The Steelers are one of the league's most consistent franchises, making the 8-8 showing from last season so very disappointing. Will Tomlin's team rebound and once again be in the thick of the highly-competitive AFC North race. Or was a very disappointing 2012 a sign of things to come in the Steel City?
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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