Another what-if for the Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- Imagine if the Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff fate would not have depended on Ryan Succop's right leg or the vagaries of officiating.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is serious about adding two more teams to the playoffs, and the Steelers would have been the last one in this season had seven AFC squads qualified for the postseason.

Had Goodell been a year earlier in pushing for playoff expansion the Steelers would have extended their season on Dec. 29 after beating the Browns and getting the wins they also needed from the Bengals and Jets.

As if Pittsburgh fans needed another what-if to chew on -- and the conspiracy theorists among them needed more proof that Goodell always seems to stick it to their beloved Steelers.

It will be interesting to hear Steelers president Art Rooney II's thoughts on expansion and whether the organization will get behind it.

Coach Mike Tomlin is part of the NFL competition committee that will presumably craft a proposal for teams to vote on at the owners' meetings in late March. Adding a playoff team in each conference shouldn't be difficult or make the postseason unwieldy as the top teams in each conference would receive a bye while the six other squads would meet during wild-card weekend.

That brings us back to the latest what-if when it comes to the Steelers.

Under the new postseason format that owners are likely to vote on in a couple of months in Orlando, Fla., the Steelers, as the No. 7 seed, would have traveled to second-seeded New England in the opening round of the AFC playoffs.

That matchup would have been anything but favorable for the Steelers, who have never beaten Tom Brady in Foxborough and were buried, 55-31, in early November at Gillette Stadium.

The Steelers, however, were playing their best ball at the end of the season, and their offense might have been able to keep pace with the Patriots.

Also noteworthy: The Patriots would have been without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who torched the Steelers with 143 receiving yards and a touchdown on Nov. 3 but suffered a season-ending knee injury in December.

Would the Steelers have been able to pull off an upset in New England?

That is another what-if to add to their 2013 tally in light of Goodell's push to expand the playoffs.