The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the offseason process regarded as among the top Super Bowl favorites, but developments since then have created cause for concern on that front as some of their star players have gotten themselves into trouble and off the football field, in doing so chipping away at the team’s championship aspirations.
Way back early in the offseason process, we learned that would-be third-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant would instead spend the year out of football while serving an indefinite suspension as a result of violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
An older report resurfaced recently that claims star running back Le’Veon Bell will also for the second time in as many seasons begin the year on the suspended list after he allegedly missed multiple drug tests. He was suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season, and could miss the first four games this year.
Bryant and Bell are part of the core constituency that makes up the strength of the Steelers’ roster, to whom their Super Bowl goals are tied more than anybody else on the team. It is a group that also includes arguably their two most important players, of course, in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown, who don’t appear to be going anywhere or getting into any trouble.
But Roethlisberger and Brown can’t be asked to shoulder the load all by themselves, and while the Steelers do have some quality depth, or at least the potential for quality depth, at the running back and wide receiver positions with DeAngelo Williams and Markus Wheaton among other players, there are few players in the league who can try to match the unique talents of players such as Bell, a first-team All-Pro, and Bryant, whose Pro Bowl status may only be held back by his off-field troubles.
With their full complement of players, including Bell and Bryant—not to mention Maurkice Pouncey, who missed all of last season—it would be a simple thing to make the argument that the Steelers have not only the best, but the most talented offense in the league. They are certainly less than they would be minus Bell and Bryant, but how much less remains to be seen, and will go a long way toward determining what hopes they might have to reach the Super Bowl.
Of course, Bell will return after four games, assuming that the reports are true and that his appeal is unsuccessful, so the Steelers should not be without him for the stretch run as they were last year when he suffered a torn MCL, but it will not be a simple thing to again attempt to weather a full quarter of the season without him, which could set them back early in the year.
That could be a difficult hill to climb out of, and the difference between a bye week or a home game in the playoffs when the time comes. Their last two trips to the Super Bowl all came at home, though they proved the ultimate road warriors a decade ago during the 2005 season.