AFC North: Lombardi trophy

Terry BradshawAP PhotoWill the current Pittsburgh team join the Steelers of the 1970s as an NFL dynasty?
FORT WORTH, Texas -- In his 50 years of experience with scouting, personnel and eventually media, Gil Brandt has seen all the football dynasties come and go in the NFL.

In Brandt's eyes, this current group of Pittsburgh Steelers can put its name into that elite category with a third championship in six seasons.

"You have to, yes," the former Dallas Cowboys player personnel executive said of considering Pittsburgh a dynasty. "We have some teams that have been in the NFL 45 years and haven't won a Super Bowl."

The Steelers have a lot on the line Sunday in Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers. Not only is Pittsburgh playing for another Lombardi Trophy, but the franchise can make a strong case to be the NFL's latest dynasty -- a term that applies only to teams winning multiple titles in a concentrated period of time.

Pittsburgh has all the ingredients for sustained success: good coaching, stellar defense, a franchise quarterback and future Hall of Famers. These are many of the same attributes of past dynasties, such as the old Steelers of the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s, the Cowboys of the 1990s and, most recently, the New England Patriots of the past decade.

So where would Pittsburgh potentially fit?

"I think if we win this [Super Bowl], you have to put this organization down as being one of the dynasties of the 2000s,” said Steelers 13-year receiver Hines Ward. "We know what's at stake. For us, it's another opportunity to win another Super Bowl. We're 2-0 in Super Bowls and we don't want to experience the other side."

What exactly counts as a dynasty in today's NFL, and how much has the definition changed?

Here is some food for thought: Since free agency began in the spring of 1993, only two teams (the Denver Broncos and Patriots) have won back-to-back Super Bowls. The Cowboys' Super Bowl titles bridged the start of modern free agency. They won Super Bowl XXVII to mark the end of the 1992 season. After the era began with Reggie White's departure from the Philadelphia Eagles to join the Packers in April 1993, the Cowboys still managed to win the Lombardi Trophy that season. Although the 49ers claimed the 1994 season's title, Dallas would later cement its dynasty status by winning a third championship in the modern free-agency era during the 1995 season.

The NFL landscape has changed dramatically in the past 15 or so years where players rarely play for one team. That makes it much harder to consistently stay on top.

"I think if you can get three in a decade, those teams are up for dynasties," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "So I think if you get three titles in six years, you have to be considered."

Even if Pittsburgh wins Sunday, the biggest knock on the Steelers would be this current group has never won back-to-back Super Bowls. But this is a league where parity rules. Eight different teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl in the past eight seasons.

"Back-to-back titles is obviously huge, because that to me is the hardest thing to do," said former tailback and Super Bowl champion Ricky Watters with the Niners. "But to stay up there is hard, too. We see teams that get there and then they’re gone. Then they may get back up there, and they’re gone again. So I think the staying power is important."

The Steelers have never won back-to-back titles the past six seasons, but they also never had a losing season. Including playoffs, Pittsburgh holds a 71-35 record over that span.

"Well, I don’t know if it's necessary because it's really hard to win back-to-back," Brandt explained. "The reason it's hard to win is because the competitive balance in this league is so good."

Now more than ever, the NFL has become a coaching and quarterback league. This is a major reason Pittsburgh has been able to sustain its success.

[+] EnlargeMike Tomlin
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMike Tomlin can win a second championship in just his fourth season as a head coach.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't put up gaudy numbers but is arguably the most clutch quarterback in the NFL. He is 10-2 in the playoffs and has a chance to improve to 3-0 in Super Bowls this Sunday. Earlier this week, the AFC North blog examined whether a third championship cements his status as a future Hall of Famer.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has a chance to win his second Super Bowl in just his fourth season. Tomlin could surpass his predecessor, Bill Cowher, who won one championship in Pittsburgh in 15 seasons.

Both are young for their respective positions. Roethlisberger, 28, and Tomlin, 38, will be stalwarts in Pittsburgh for a long time with a chance to win multiple championships together.

"We have a great relationship. He's a player's coach and I like playing for him," Roethlisberger said this week of Tomlin. "He's one of the reasons we want to win football games. We are blessed to have him as our coach."

The Steelers don't have to look far for motivation. Perhaps the greatest dynasty of all time was the dominant 1970s Pittsburgh teams that won four Super Bowls in a six-season span. That Steeler dynasty also had two back-to-back title runs.

This week several Pittsburgh veterans say they’re trying to live up to that standard. On their way to meetings at Pittsburgh's complex, Steelers players and coaches must walk by their NFL-high six Lombardi Trophies, including those four won by Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann and Co.

"We have what you can't buy, which is legacy," Tomlin said. "[It's] an unbelievable standard and expectation and all those great things."

No dynasty lasts forever. That is why it's important for this proud, veteran group of Steelers to seize this moment.

There are aging veterans older than 30 such as Ward, James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel going for their third ring, and there are no guarantees any of these Steelers will get another chance to win another Super Bowl.

"We're not worrying about what happens afterwards. It's a whole bigger issue than us after this game,” Ward said of potentially making history. "So is this the last run? Why would it be the last run? We have a huge opportunity to win our third Super Bowl, and we're trying to come down here and make the most of it and see if we can bring our seventh Super Bowl back to Pittsburgh."

When it comes to attaining dynasty status, consider Super Bowl XLV a "swing game" for the Steelers.

Beat the favored Packers at Cowboys Stadium and this Steelers group will forever be in the dynasty discussion. But lose to Green Bay, and that conversation abruptly ends.

Terrell Suggs rebounds big in 2010

December, 23, 2010
Terrell SuggsAP Photo/Rob CarrTerrell Suggs has bounced back from a lackluster 2009 season to lead the Ravens with 11 sacks.
His guarantee this past spring was bold. But outspoken Baltimore Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs has never shied away from bold statements.

Coming off a season in which Suggs posted a career-low 4.5 sacks, the three-time Pro Bowler put a ton of pressure on himself at the start of Baltimore's offseason program.

"Rest assured, it will never happen again," Suggs said of repeating last year's production.

It was the first time Suggs admitted publicly to what media and fans were discussing all last season. The usually dominant Suggs simply didn't look himself in 2009.

During the summer of 2009, Suggs and his representation had lengthy and at times tense contract negotiations with the Ravens before hammering out a six-year, $63 million extension. Suggs showed up above his usual playing weight and never got on track.

But the motor and fire have returned, as Suggs leads the playoff-bound Ravens (10-4) with 11 sacks this season, which is tied for sixth in the NFL. He has at least one sack in six of the past seven games and is likely headed to his fourth Pro Bowl in eight seasons.

What changed with Suggs?

"I wouldn't say it was a lack of focus. I just wasn't in love in football," Suggs admitted in a conference call with the Cleveland media. "Because of the contract negotiations, it seemed more like a job than a game that I love. It is, but I guess it kind of took its toll on me."

The difference in Suggs is easy to see. For long stretches this season, he has been Baltimore's best defensive player and difficult to block against the run and pass.

Baltimore's desperately needed a bounce-back year from Suggs. The Ravens are great against the run -- No. 5 in the NFL -- but pass-rushing and pass defense have been inconsistent. The Ravens are ranked No. 19 in the league with 27 sacks.

Despite often facing double-teams, Suggs accounts for 41 percent of Baltimore's sacks. The next-closest player is defensive lineman Haloti Ngata (5.5 sacks).

"He just came back in great shape, and I think it's really made a big difference," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of Suggs. "He got his weight down to 260, and the quickness is back and the explosiveness is back. But he's always been a very good all-around player. I think he's one of the better all-around linebackers in the league."

Week 16 could be another big game for Suggs. He's been tremendous over the years against the Cleveland Browns (5-9), who will host the Ravens on Sunday. In 15 career games against the Browns, Suggs has 70 tackles, 12 sacks and a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown. His sack total against Cleveland is his highest versus any team.

Cleveland is struggling at right tackle with starter John St. Clair. So expect Suggs to move around to try to exploit that favorable matchup. Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is on the other side and also will see plenty of Suggs.

"We've [the AFC North] got two of the most outstanding outside linebackers in the game in Terrell Suggs and James Harrison," Thomas said. "It's always a good battle between the two of us. It's going to be back and forth, and it's going to be fun."

Suggs has more than doubled his sack total from a year ago and needs 1.5 more sacks in the final two games to set a career season high. Suggs said it would be a nice accomplishment in his eighth season, but he has his sights set on bigger goals.

"It's all fun and it's good and all, but I've had good seasons in the past with nothing to show for it, and so it pretty much just came and went," Suggs explained. "I'm really focused on trying to get in the playoffs and trying to get a chance to hold the Lombardi [Trophy] at the end of the season."