Projected Record: 10-6
AFC North Rank: Tied for 1st with Ravens
After a poor season, which saw the Steelers miss the playoffs, the Steelers had to make a few tough decisions during free agency. The Steelers chose to not re-sign Rashard Mendenhall or Mike Wallace. Although the loss of Mendenhall may hurt, the Steelers were smart to let go of Wallace because the Dolphins badly overpaid for his services. Although the loss of the former stars will leave the Steelers with less talent and explosiveness, their cap situation will be better and they will give more opportunities to other players. During the draft, the Steelers selected three skill position players, Le’veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, and Justin Brown. Although injured during most of the preseason, Le’veon Bell, a second round pick, has a lot of potential and will be able to partial fill the void that Mendenhall left. During his college days, Bell was a bruising running back, who was willing to take a hit and run through defenders. Bell will be a perfect fit for the Steelers because he is a physical running back playing for a physical team. The Steelers ranked 26th in rushing yards per game last season, which was a disgrace for the Steelers. While Bell will help the running game, Wheaton and Brown will help Ben maintain his success. Although the Steelers will miss their top receiving target and their top tight end for a few weeks because of injury, the Steelers have a nice supply of wide receivers. Although they do not have a deep threat like Wallace, Wheaton, Cotchery, Brown, Sanders, and Antonio Brown are a nice group of receiver that can produce at a high level. If Ben can play a whole season, the Steelers will definitely improve on their 12th ranked passing attack from last season.
On defense, the Steelers will hopefully repeat their success. Last season, the Steelers finished first in passing yards against and second in rushing yards against per game. The Steelers have a lot of studs of defense including Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Lamar Woodley, Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Ryan Clark. Although the Steelers’ defense is aging, they have a lot of talent and experience. If Troy can stay healthy, the defense reaches a whole new level because of the intangibles he brings and his ability to force turnovers. Over the last few seasons, the Steelers have added new talent on defense, Jarvis Jones, Cameron Hayward, and Ziggy Hood, which enables them to keep their older players fresh and gives experience to their younger studs. Provided they do not experience many injuries, the Steelers’ defense should be at least top five in both passing and rushing yards against.
The Steelers hope that they can reach the playoffs again this season and hopefully win a playoff game. If the Steelers could guarantee that Ben would play all 16 games, I would pencil them in for 11 or 12 games because they have that much talent. However, Ben plays with reckless abandon, which causes him to constantly injure himself. The Steelers open the season with four tough games before their bye week. In week one, the Steelers play the Titans at home. This game should be a contest. The Titans do not have a good quarterback situation and they do not have much talent on the team. After the Titans, they play @Bengals, Bear, and @Vikings. The game against Bengals should be a close game. However, the Bengals have a lot of talent like the Steelers and they should beat the Steelers at home. After the Bengals, the Steelers will beat the Bears at home because they are better and play better on both sides of the ball. In their final game before the bye, the Steelers play the Vikings on the road. Most of the players will probably be over looking the Vikings because they will be preparing for the bye week.
After the bye, the Steelers schedule lightens up because they play a lot of bad teams. The Steelers play three of their first road games on the road. The Steelers play @Jets, Ravens, @ Raiders, and @Patriots. Although they have a chance at winning all four games, the Steelers should win three of the four games. The Jets and Raiders are hopeless teams and the Steelers should easily win. The other two games, Ravens and Patriots, will be difficult, but Pittsburgh should win one of the games. The rest of the eight games should not be too difficult for the two time champion Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers play five of the eight games at home and they should win all eight games. The Steelers play only one playoff team from last season, Bengals. The other games are against easy teams like Bills, Lions, Dolphins, and Browns. The Steelers three games on the road will be difficult. I predict that they will lose two, Browns and Ravens. The Browns’ game before the Ravens will be a trap game for the Steelers. It is right before the game against the Ravens and on the road. The Steelers will be in line to make the playoffs as a Wild Card. I predict that the Steelers will win at least one round in the playoffs and possibly two.
On offense, Le’veon Bell will very important for the Steelers because he has the chance to stabilize Pittsburgh running game. The second round running back is a great physical specimen that can dominate defenders at the point of attack. The Steelers were ranked 26th in running last season which is disappointing for a team that commends itself for being able to run the ball and being physical. With the departure of Mendenhall and Wallace, the Steelers are going to need more big plays from their skill positions. Bell will relieve some of the pressure from Ben because less people will be in the backfield protecting against the pass. If Bell is successful, the play action pass will be incredibly effective for the Steelers.
On defense, Troy Polumalu is extremely similar to Big Ben. When the safety is on the field, the Steelers defense is a whole different animal. Although he is older than most success safeties, Troy plays with reckless abandon. Polumalu is a great ball hawk and playmaker for the defense. He is known for the great plays he makes that change the complexion of a game. In 2010, Troy was voted the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Troy may not have many great seasons left in the NFL, but he can still make a major difference on deference. If Polumalu can stay healthy, the Pittsburgh defense will be the best in the league because of the difference he makes.