Patriots, Steelers put lengthy streaks on the line this year
When considering the best teams in the AFC for the coming year, it takes a while for the Patriots and Steelers to enter the conversation. There’s actually a not-small chance that both will bring up the rear in their own divisions.
If it happens for either team, it will end a very long streak.
Via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, the Patriots have a 22-season streak of not landing in last place in the division. It last happened in 2000, the first year Bill Belichick coached the team. A 5-11 record put New England in last place, by a three-game margin.
For the Steelers, the streak is 34 seasons. It dates all the way back to 1988, when the Steelers had a five-win season.
Those are, per Reiss, the two longest current streaks of teams not finishing last in their own divisions.
It has become easier to land in last place since 2002, when all divisions went to only four teams. Still, during those 21 seasons of eight four-team division, neither New England nor Pittsburgh have finished fourth of four teams.
On paper, the Patriots are the worst team in a very good AFC East. In the AFC North, it’s hard to figure where the Steelers fall in relation to the Browns. Both are perceived as being a cut below the Bengals and Ravens.
Still, don’t bet on the Patriots or the Steelers ultimately landing in the basement of their respective divisions. Not with coaches who know a thing or two about finding a way to stay in contention, even when their rosters seem to be lacking, in relation to other teams.