When the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to make the playoffs in 2009, they came back with a vengeance the following season and made a run all the way to the Super Bowl where they fell to the top-seeded Green Bay Packers.
Look for a similar scenario in 2013. Yea, that’s right. The Steelers will make the playoffs after a mediocre 8-8 season… hopefully that caught your attention.
Many fans and analysts are concerned about the Steelers’ defense. Others are concerned about the offensive line. Some may even feel that a void was left empty once wide receiver Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins.
Dear Steeler Nation, relax.
Allow us to discuss the cold hard facts.
The schedule once again favors this team. Seeing as how the Baltimore Ravens will struggle to play .500 this season, Pittsburgh can very well sweep them and the Cleveland Browns. Worst case scenario, they go 4-2 in divisional play this year with the Cincinnati Bengals being the biggest of tests.
Outside of the AFC North, the only games that would be of some concern would be against the New England Patriots in Week 9 and Green Bay in Week 16.
Granted those two games are later in the season, the Steelers have a very good chance going into New England with a strong record of 5-2. Win or lose against Tom Brady and the Patroits, Pittsburgh will go on to play back-to-back home games against the Buffalo Bills and the Detroit Lions. Then they will head to Cleveland for their first game against the Browns. Do the math, this team could be 8-3 by the time they head to Baltimore in Week 13.
Next on the list would be the defense.
Who did this team lose other than Casey Hampton and James Harrison? It is mind-boggling to know that people do not give this defense a chance in 2013. Defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau is still a genius and rest assured, he is aware of the losses of those two players.
Ike Taylor is still one of the best cover-men in the NFL. Jason Worilds has been looking for a chance to step up and prove himself and he finally has that chance. He will do just fine replacing Harrison (who by the way was being trash-talked and labeled as “washed up” throughout last season). Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are still one of the league’s most dynamic duos in the secondary when healthy.
This defense will be just as good as the offense allows them to be.
Now, time to analyze that offense.
Ben Roethlisberger is a proven quarterback. He has two rings and still has plenty left in the tank. The most impressive thing about him is that he does this in a city that is full of bipolar fans. Great, passionate fans, but bipolar nonetheless. They will wear his jersey in pride when he is winning and throwing touchdowns left and right, and they are just as fast to dismiss him when he throws an interception.
One could not even help but bringing up his past and slandering him as an “off-field problem.”
One lonely girl in Georgia who was craving for some attention managed to place a tag on the man who led this team to three Super Bowls in six years. Are you kidding me?
This is a guy who plays through every injury known to man. He is 31 years old and feels he has a lot more to give during the next few years. On top of that, he is coming off a 2013 campaign where he threw over 3,200 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions while sporting a 97.0 QB rating in 13 games.
For many years, the Steelers have been caught in an identity crisis. Are they a running team or a passing team?
Well, this writer’s only concern this season is the running game. Without Le’Veon Bell for the first few weeks, Head Coach Mike Tomlin will be counting on Isaac Redman for the second straight season opener as the team’s starting running back. They did add some depth by signing LaRod Stephens-Howling, but they missed out on an opportunity to sign a tailback who can handle the work load (Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw).
So yes, Big Ben will be called upon to post some more spectacular numbers this year. The fact that they were able to keep Emmanuel Sanders on this team is a blessing. Sanders is entering his fourth season and is another X-factor for Pittsburgh. He has played in the shadow of teammate Antonio Brown and will finally get a chance to start on the opposite side.
“But Jeff, what about the Steelers’ offensive line? Isn’t that the biggest concern this season?”
Allow me to answer that question with a question. “When is the offensive line NOT an issue?”
Pittsburgh has the luxury of having a quarterback who can actually scramble out of the pocket, and without a doubt the best in the NFL at extending a play. I’m pretty sure the offensive line was a concern during their Super Bowl runs in recent years.
Keep this in mind. The Steelers did not have the best team on paper in 2005-06 when they beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. They went into that season with what looked like a mediocre receiving core, a banged up offensive line and a trio of running backs that no one would have put money on. Think about it. Would you have bet on starters like Cedric Wilson and Willie Parker?
This roster looks somewhat similar. They are all role-players who are hungry to prove to this city that they indeed can have a short memory.
The bottom line is that this team has a great chance of posting a better record in 2013, and they will make the playoffs via wild card. They will not however, beat Cincinnati for the division crown.
Pittsburgh has just a few “must-wins” on their schedule (Opener against Tennesse, Miami, Oakland and Buffalo). As long as they do not play down to their competition this year, the sky is the limit for this team.
Now that this rant is over, below are AFC North standings in January if one cares to look into the future.
y- Cincinnati (11-5)
x- Pittsburgh (10-6)
y- division champ, x- wild card