Offseason rankings have become a months-long ritual in today’s media climate, and one that often even begins before the actual offseason does. So much is yet to be determined through most of that process that a great deal of it has only the smallest fraction of value beyond simply serving as a point of discussion.
As the offseason wears on further and further, and more and more data is collected about the makeup of each team, it would be logical to expect that the value of such rankings increases, given that it is able to be based off of more concrete and usable information.
Given that the Pittsburgh Steelers were a fumble away from advancing to the AFC Championship game and perhaps beyond during the 2015 season, though, it should not be a great surprise to find them on the top of a list or two, and one of the lists that they happened to top was the one recently put out by Pro Football Focus, which projects them as the top team in the AFC, dividing their analysis between conferences.
It is worth noting, however, that they have Pittsburgh finishing with the outright best record in either conference at 13-3. The last time that the Steelers have finished with a record above 12-4 was actually Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, when the Steelers went 15-1 and nearly reached the Super Bowl. In fact, they have only finished 13-3 or better four times since the league adopted the 16-game schedule in 1978.
It’s not at all unreasonable, however, to hold the belief that this Steelers roster can live up to that lofty projection if you look at the talent that they have on their roster, and the veteran leadership available at key positions. In fact, as we noted yesterday, the team is already favored to win 14 of their 16 games on the schedule, although that is obviously extremely preliminary.
Writing that “the Steelers were the team that no one wanted to face” heading into the playoffs, PFF notes that it took a surprising quarterback performance to knock them out, although I would argue that Denver’s defense had more to do with it, aside from Pittsburgh’s injuries.
They write that Le’Veon Bell “is likely to be the best [running back] next season” after being limited to six games a year ago, and that the Steelers will be shifting from “a bottom-five center” in Cody Wallace to “a top-five center” in Maurkice Pouncey.
Wrapping things up, they speak the obvious, saying that “if they can just stay healthy, they have the most talent among AFC teams that are likely to be postseason competitors”. That would certainly seem to be a fair assessment.
Considering the fact that the Steelers had to field an offense against Denver that was missing three All-Pros from the lineup, I would tend to buy the argument that merely staying healthy is the biggest key in Pittsburgh advancing to an NFL-record ninth Super Bowl during the 2016 season.