As a flagship franchise for the NFL, it’s virtually impossible for the Pittsburgh Steelers not to have high expectations placed on them from the outside on a near-yearly basis. That has been the case for most of the past two decades, even with a bit of a lull here and there in between.
Expectations are somewhat lower heading into 2019 after they went 9-6-1 in 2018 and missed the postseason, only to follow that up by trading Antonio Brown in the offseason. Conversely, the exciting new quarterbacks in the AFC North, with Lamar Jackson with the Baltimore Ravens and Baker Mayfield with the Cleveland Browns, a lot of the spotlight this offseason has been redirected.
Seven-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is not complaining, however. In fact, if anything, he finds it to be a nice change of pace. Asked about all of the attention that the Browns are now receiving, even being named favorites to win the AFC North after placing third last season, he was unconcerned.
“Sometimes, when you get too much praise, you think you’re better than you are”, he told Aditi Kinkhabwala during the spring workouts earlier this month. “Everyone kept saying we’re going to the Super Bowl”, he added, suggesting, “maybe you don’t work as hard as you should” under those expectations.
Surely this will conjure up some memories of the 2017 season. The Steelers went 13-3 that year, realistically even capably of going 14-2 and with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, had one particular rule been on the books a year earlier than it was.
That didn’t matter, because they ended up hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round and lost in what ended up being a points-fest. Prior to that game, there was a sense that the Steelers were overlooking their AFC South adversaries, even though they were the only team to beat them in the regular season without the benefit of overtime or a misguided rule. In fact, the only team to beat them by more than one possession.
This season, they may have the opportunity somewhat to fly under the radar. A number of players, such as Joe Haden and JuJu Smith-Schuster, have commented on this and the possibility of playing an underdog role, but Ben Roethlisberger said that in Pittsburgh, you’re never the underdog.
Regardless of how they might be perceived from the outside, though, Pouncey is just enjoying what it’s been like on the inside. He admitted that drama is “never just one or two people”, but he added that “no one is talking about anything but football, and that’s when football is really fun”.