2017 Season Previews: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have gone from back to back 8-8 seasons, to three 11-5 win seasons in a row. I do think they have only the Pats to stand in their way of a 1 seed in the AFC.

Offense: Big Ben is the question mark. He’s turning 35, and is looking for retirement homes more than Ravens Defense tapes at the moment. I still think Big Ben is a top-level QB, but it is getting time for the Steelers to look for the next guy, and need to hurry. I have always been a Landry Jones guy, but the Steelers used a fourth rounder on Joshua Dobbs, so maybe I’m wrong again.
The Steelers have one of the most potent receivers groups in the NFL, Martavis Bryant can be AMAZING, but has issues inside the helmet that Terrell Owens would flinch at. Antionio Bryant is no slouch as the number 2 guy, and would be number 1 on almost any other team, and the Steelers added some Ju-Ju in the fourth round. Tight End is the one problem area as Ladarius Green can be a good one, but might need to retire, and Jesse James might just be a stopgap solution, but he does work hard.
The riches don’t end there, as Big Ben has some weapons in the running game. Le’Veon Bell is a standout runner, but he’s getting dinged up, and the Steelers didn’t bring back DeAngelo Williams, confident that James Conner can take all the short yardage carries and the hits that come with them.
The offensive line guys are all back and boast two pro-bowlers and two guys who could have gone as well. This group only allowed 21 sacks last year and while Big Ben is a hard guy to bring down, thats an impressive number. FB Roosevelt Nix is one of the best blockers in the NFL and is almost a sixth lineman up front.

Defense: The Steelers defense is starting to show more signs of problems, but the defensive front is by far the best unit, even with Cameron Hayward going down with injury. Tyson Alualu comes over from Jacksonville to be his backup, but the star could end up being Stephon Tuitt.
James Harrison is 39, and is still a beast, but has his understudy in TJ Watt, the Steelers first rounder. The other side is 2015 number one Bud Dupree, who is rounding into a soild, but not standout player. This group is going to miss Lawrence Timmons on the inside, as they replace him with Vince Williams who is mostly just a run-stopper.
The secondary has major issues, as Pittsburgh had to throw both top picks into the frey from day one, and both did well, but it did take top pick Artie Burns a while to settle in. Mike Mitchell might be the safety, but the Steelers need more from him to have a long playoff run. They did put a third and 5th rounder into this group, maybe they will find some gold here.

Special Teams: Not as solid as most years.  Chris Boswell is always solid, and the punting is getting better. Antonio Brown should not be returning at this level, so expect a lot of people getting chances early on. The coverage units need some serious work

Overall: This defense does worry me a bit, as the secondary has a lot of talent, but little production, some because they don’t pick the ball off, some due to youth. Last year they might have been able to derail the Pats if Bell didn’t go down, as they were able to stop the run easily and concentrate on the pass exclusively. As long as they keep Big Ben upright, they can compete, but he needs to get his interceptions down.

I have them sweeping the AFC North, and I think they take 3 in the AFC South. Another 2 wins in the NFC North as they go to Detroit. Bonus games against KC and New England and I’m giving them both games for a chance at the top seed at 13-3.

Three Questions

I. Is this Big Ben’s last year?

Joe: With all his mumbling about it, then his talk this offseason about the concussions and the effect they could have on a player after he ends his football career, I am really beginning to feel that way.

Dan: Yes, I believe it is. The only way that I believe Big Ben plays another season is if he doesn’t get hit much, completes the entire season with no injuries and the Steelers go down to the wire with New England in the AFC Championship Game or they make it to the Super Bowl. If they win the Super Bowl, Big Ben retires. They lose, Big Ben returns for one more shot.

David: Depends on if they win a title. If they beat the Pats and take the Super Bowl, maybe even if they lose, I could see him coming back. Let’s keep in mind, he’s 35, and has never really been a guy that doesn’t get scratched and clawed on a regular basis. The Steelers go 10-6, and lose in the first round to the Raiders? Yeah, he could be done.

II. Are the Steelers the biggest threat to the Patriots?

Joe: I like them but what did they do in the offseason that makes anyone think they got that much better to finally overtake the Pats? And, if Big Ben goes down they are probably in big trouble.

So, no, I don’t think so.

Look toward the West is what I say. Oakland is a more likely source as a threat or maybe Miami.

But truthfully? I got the Pats going all the way to the Super Bowl. Maybe with only a late season loss besmirching their record as the guy in the hoodie tweaks his roster and rests old man Brady.

Dan: Yes, they are. I think they’re the second best team in the AFC and have a lot of weapons on offense and a solid defense to prove their worth. Plus, they play at Heinz Field, which is an extremely tough matchup for opponents. While New England looks almost unbeatable on paper, I think the Steelers can definitely compete with them. Will they overtake them and make it to the Super Bowl to represent the AFC? No, I don’t believe so. But they do have a good chance at doing so.

David: Only the Raiders are even close, and they have not earned that position yet. I think it’s these two and then a fairly large drop to the next team.

III. If the Steelers fall short, is Mike Tomlin going to start to feel the heat?

Joe: No, I don’t think so.

I think management will probably realize the Steelers need to start getting ready for after-Big Ben and then go get their QB of the future. Tomlin gets a pass until then.

After they get who they think is their guy to be the QB? Tomlin will need to get to the team to the playoffs or he gets a trip to the unemployment office.

No, I don’t think so. I think they know what they’re coming in to this season. If they don’t win the division, it’ll be on Tomlin’s head. If they don’t make the AFC Championship Game, Tomlin will definitely feel a lot of heat from the organization and especially the fans. I think they have high expectations this season, but winning the Super Bowl wouldn’t be an expectation I’d place on this Steelers’ team.

Dan: No, I don’t think so. I think they know what they’re coming in to this season. If they don’t win the division, it’ll be on Tomlin’s head. If they don’t make the AFC Championship Game, Tomlin will definitely feel a lot of heat from the organization and especially the fans. I think they have high expectations this season, but winning the Super Bowl wouldn’t be an expectation I’d place on this Steelers’ team.

David: The Steelers have always been the most patient team in the NFL. Tomlin survived those 8-8 seasons, and he’s not going anywhere even if they go 8-8 this year. I do think the division is starting to catch up, and maybe Tomlin will look to exit to TV when Big Ben goes, as no one wants to be the coach of the Steelers if the Brown ever take the AFC North crown.

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