Are NFL Preseason Records Predictive of Postseason Play? A Look at the Preseason Records of Steelers’ Super Bowl Teams

By Jeremy Hritz

So how much does the preseason really mean for a team’s postseason chances? And historically, how have the Steelers performed in those years in which they competed in a Super Bowl? As we prepare for the start of exhibition contests Thursday with the Steelers battling the Cowboys in Canton, Ohio, it is helpful to have a context of what, if anything, preseason records for NFL teams can tell us about postseason admission and success, specifically in relation to the Steelers. 

Chris Chase Makes Provides an Interesting Take

In a 2015 article published in the USA Today titled, “The NFL preseason matters a little more than you think,” Chris Chase examines 5 years worth of preseason data in conjunction with regular season performance for NFL teams to determine the connection to making it to the postseason, and based on his research, teams who win 2 or more contests in the preseason have a 75% chance of making it to the playoffs, while teams with 1 or no wins have a 25% chance of making it to the postseason. This is not a failsafe statistic, as he points out that the 1991 Washington Football Team went 1-3 in the preseason, yet went on to a 17-2 record and a Super Bowl victory. Conversely, the 2014 New York Giants went 5-0 in the preseason, but finished 6-10 in the regular season. 

Out of curiosity, I quickly researched the Steelers’ records in the preseason for every year they played in a Super Bowl, win or lose, to see how their performance matched up the Chase’s information. Here is a breakdown of those records:

YearSteelers Preseason Record
20103-1 (lose)
20083-1 (win)
20053-1 (win)
19951-3 (lose)
19793-1 (win)
19782-2 (win)
19753-4 (win)
19746-0 (win)
Steelers’ Super Bowl Season Preseason Records

As you can see, out of the 8 years the Steelers made it to a Super Bowl, they won at least 2 games in the preseason, with the only exception being the 1995 season in which they went 1-3. Interestingly enough, the last 3 times the Steelers made the Super Bowl (2010, 2008, and 2005) under the leadership of Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, they went at least 3-1. In every season in which the team won a Super Bowl, they won no less than 2 games.

To take this study further, I could have looked at preseason records for all Steelers postseason teams, but since the standard in Pittsburgh is championship-caliber football, this provided the starting point. 

OK, So Does Preseason Mean Anything?

So what does it all mean, if anything? Well, historically speaking, no Steelers team has ever lost every preseason game and made it to a Super Bowl, and only 1 Steelers team had a record of less than 2 wins and made it to the championship contest. While such narratives are always ripe to be rewritten, it is interesting that these patterns exist among NFL teams preseason and postseason play and with the Steelers preseason records and their Super Bowl experience.

Does this mean the Steelers will win the Super Bowl if they go 3-1 or better in the preseason. No. But does it provide a glimpse at the potential success they could have in the regular season and in regards to their prospects to making the playoffs? Absolutely.

The preseason is a time to get your veteran players sharp on their playbook, in football shape, and game-ready, while for the unproven players, it is an opportunity to show they belong. Ultimately, preseason football showcases the quality of a team’s depth and serves as preparation for the implementation of the next man up.

Regardless, the Steelers want a win Thursday night, and so do the fans. Let’s root them on to go out and start the season on a positive note.

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