Even though the 2017 NFL Draft has yet to take place, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders has already released his first set of record projections for all 32 NFL teams in a post for ESPN.com. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Schatz has them improving on their record from last season and once again winning the AFC North.
Schatz, who has the Steelers going 13-3 in 2017, writes:
Pittsburgh and New England come out far ahead of the rest of the league in our forecast, with the Steelers powered by the best offensive projection in the league. The Steelers have exceptional offensive line continuity, as all five starting linemen have been in Pittsburgh for at least four seasons. Pittsburgh might have the best running back and the best wide receiver in the league, and we can expect some rebound from Ben Roethlisberger after an inconsistent 2016 season.
It’s hard to argue with Schatz’s quick synopsis of the Steelers offense potentially being even better than last season and especially if wide receiver Martavis Bryant is ultimately reinstated for the 2017 season after sitting out all of 2016 due to a suspension. As long as the unit stays healthy, they’ll be expected to outperform last year.
While Schatz didn’t address the Steelers defense in his short summary, one can easy speculate that side of the football will show some improvement in 2017 as well and at the very least, more consistent play. The Steelers will have defensive end Cameron Heyward back healthy in 2017 and their first three draft picks from last year, cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, are all expected to improve their play as well in their second seasons.
As for the other three teams in the AFC North, Schatz only has one of them, the Cincinatti Bengals, finishing the 2017 season with a record above .500.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 13-3 (13.1 mean wins; SOS: 27)
2. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7 (8.8 mean wins; SOS: 26)
3. Baltimore Ravens: 8-8 (7.8 mean wins; SOS: 19)
4. Cleveland Browns: 5-11 (5.4 mean wins; SOS: 11)
As a result of his projections, Schatz has the Steelers finishing as the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the New England Patriots, who he also projects to have a 13-3 record in 2017.
In his latest projection post, Schatz details what criteria was used when formulating his early projections:
Our projection system starts with Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) ratings for the past three seasons, although last year’s ratings end up about six times as important as either 2014 or 2015. (You’ll find last year’s final ratings here.) Offensive projections also incorporate a separate projection for the starting quarterback done independent of the team. After that, we account for general regression trends and incorporate a number of other variables that measure everything from turnover ratios to personnel and coaching changes on both sides of the ball.
Each team has a forecasted record but also, for those of you wanting more detail, a more exact “mean projected wins” number. We also list strength of schedule based on average projected DVOA of next season’s 16 opponents, ranked from the hardest (Dallas is No. 1) to the easiest (New England).