Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
2014 Record: 11-5
Postseason: 30-17 L to Baltimore in Wild Card
Odds to win Division: +215
Odds to win Conference: +1050
Odds to win Super Bowl: +2650
Season Wins: Over 9 (+101); Under 9 (-121)
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The Pittsburgh Steelers had a nice 2014 season and made the postseason, but the quick exit has fans craving some real playoff success.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have some true top shelf talent on the roster, and it transpired into a great regular season. The postseason? Not so much. After racking up 11 wins, the Steelers were unceremoniously sent packing by the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card matchup.
Still, the team has its core intact from its 2008 title and believes it can rekindle that flame to make at least one more run. The team has continued to add quality young talent while retaining its veterans, meaning Steelers fans may never have to endure a true rebuild. But the focus is not even on any of that right now.
“We don’t base what we are trying to get done in 2015 on what happened in 2014,” head coach Mike Tomlin said, adding that “although a lot of the key components will remain in place…we are going to look for ways to grow.” That growth will come with what is already one of the best offenses in the league.
Last year marked the first time a QB, RB and WR all finished first or second in their stat categories and OC Todd Haley has to be credited with doing a superb job of balancing a very talented offense. Ben Roethlisberger had his best statistical season of his career last year, but is turning 33 this season and may be ready to begin his slow decline.
The Steelers improved by three wins last year though, so there is really no indication that he will have to decline, at that. It is just that guys can fall off ever so quickly, and Steelers fans will continue to hope that Big Ben has plenty left in the tank. He does not get injured often, and his sheer toughness would seem to indicate he can keep ticking forever, or at least for the Steelers to reel off a few more years of true contention. He was only sacked 33 times last year and he started every game each of the past two seasons.
For a guy so heavily keyed in upon, Big Ben takes the licking and keeps on ticking. His backup Bruce Gradkowski basically is relegated to the role of second unit practice dummy, having seen just three snaps last year, which was three more than he received the season before. Irrelevance has never been easier to describe.
RB Le’Veon Bell is suspended for the first three games of the regular season, so Pittsburgh will have to find a way to plug the gap until Week 4 when he returns. The Steelers open the season against New England and face San Francisco in Week 2, so winning those games without Bell should prove to be somewhat a challenge.
The Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams who rushed for 6,846 yards and 4.8 yards per carry while with the Carolina Panthers, but last year he fought injuries and played just six games. The Steelers are hoping that gave him ample time to recover, being 32 years of age and needing rest as much as any other RB. He also should have no problem embracing the role as No. 2 back, which is quite different from what happened with LeGarrette Blount last year.
The WR corp is about as impressive as it gets. Markus Wheaton and Antonio Brown are the starters, backed up by Sammie Coates and Martavius Bryant. Brown is a true No. 1 option and he had one of the best seasons for a WR in NFL history last year with 129 catches for 1,698 yards to go along with 13 TDs.
Bryant showed himself to have elite potential in the final 10 games of the year after missing the first six. At 6-foot-4 211 pounds, he has the size to be an easy target for an arm like Roethlisberger’s. Even Miller who has been riddled with nagging injuries still caught 66 passes last year. He’s not as effective as he was pre-injuries, but he is still a good capable receiver in a high powered offense.
The OL remains an area of weakness for the Steelers, however. The team is hoping it can keep its OL healthy because injuries played a major role in depleting the depth last year. The Steelers improved its run game from No. 27 in the league to No. 16 last year, but further improvements are both necessary and possible.
The Steelers replaced Dick LeBeau with Keith Butler as DC. He will bring about some changes, possibly utilizing more pass rushing, although he will keep the same 3-4 scheme that LeBeau used.
It may be asking a lot for Big Ben and company to replicate last year’s numbers, but the Steelers don’t really have that as their primary concern. The goal is to make the playoffs and produce there, which was not what happened last year.
The defense must be improved from last year when it ranked No. 27 in passing yardage allowed. Teams were all too able to exploit Pittsburgh’s secondary, which by all accounts is still pretty poor. The defensive factors limit regular season wins, but Big Ben is going to put some points on the board and leave other teams to counter that. We will say that makes for another double-digit win season.
Prediction: 10 wins