The Steelers had a very successful 2016, going 11-5, winning the AFC North, and advancing to the AFC Championship game before getting blown out by the New England Patriots. How will they do this year? Let’s take a look at this year’s team:
The Steelers were the 3rd ranked offense in the AFC last year and they have suffered a few losses. They’ve also greatly improved their wide receiver group. Martavis Bryant comes back from a year-long suspension. In 21 career games, he has scored 14 touchdowns and averages 17.3 yards per catch. He’s the deep threat that will take some of the pressure off Antonio Brown. Brown had a down year (for him), getting 106 catches, 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns, partly because the other wide receivers weren’t very good. With Bryant on the other side, this offense can be explosive. At running back, Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers could not come to terms on a long term contract, so the Steelers put the franchise tag on him. He’s playing on a one year contract, so one of the best running backs in the NFL has extra incentive to have a big year.
Behind Bell are 3rd round pick James Conner and training camp phenom Terrell Watson. They won’t play much unless Bell gets hurt. Therefore, barring injury, Bell will play a lot. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off one of his best years (3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns, 13 interceptions). Can he stay healthy? Is he too old to be an elite quarterback? He’s entering his 14th year and has hinted that he could retire soon. The offensive line is ranked one of the best in the NFL and hasn’t changed. Everything is pointing towards a great year for the offense.
The Steelers counted on Ladarius Green being a deep threat at tight end. With him gone, the tight end group (Jesse James, Xavier Grimble) looked weak. On September 1st, they made a trade with the 49ers for Vance McDonald. McDonald didn’t put up great numbers in San Francisco, so it remains to be seen if he can help the Steelers.
The defense was ranked 12th in the NFL last year, but it didn’t seem like they were very good. 2016 draft picks Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave made significant contributions. Will 2017 1st round pick T.J. Watt and 3rd round pick Cameron Sutton make similar contributions? Watt is expected to play the majority of the time at ROLB, spliting time with ageless wonder James Harrison. Sutton injured his hamstring and may start the season on Injured Reserve. ILB Ryan Shazier made the Pro Bowl last year and he has the potential to be even better. His only limitation is getting injured. If he can stay healthy, he could be the devensive player of the year. The defensive line struggled last year with Cameron Heyward getting injured, but should be much better this year. NT Javon Hargrave and DE Stephon Tuitt are stars in the making. If those 3 can put pressure on the QB, it can help the secondary. Speaking of which…
The secondary was better in 2016 with CB Artie Burns coming into his own, but they have looked terrible this preseason. S Mike Mitchell has been injured for weeks (should be good for the regular season) and CB Ross Cockrell looked horrible. Cockrell was traded and the Steelers acquired CB Joe Haden after he was cut by Cleveland and S J.J. Wilcox from Tampa Bay. The offense should score plenty of points, so the defense doesn’t have to be great.
Chris Boswell is entering his 3rd year as placekicker for the Steelers and is as solid as they come. He’s made 50 of 57 field goals and kicking field goals in Heinz Field isn’t easy. Punter Jordan Berry is also entering his 3rd year and is solid as well. He is averaging 44.2 yards per punt. Antonio Brown should return punts this year.
This team is built to win this year and everything looks like they will. The rest of the AFC North looks weak, so the Steelers should have no problem winning the division. They should be the 2nd best team in the AFC. I predict they’ll go 12-4 and go deep into the playoffs. How far they go depends on if they play New England. The Patriots look unstoppable and the Steelers always have trouble against them.