The Pittsburgh Steelers went from a 13-3 team to a 9-6-1 unit in just a year, moving from one who has a bye week to missing the postseason altogether. The biggest difference in personnel between one season and the next was the loss of Le’Veon Bell. This year, they’ve lost Antonio Brown, arguably the best wide receiver in the game. And yet expectations, having initially dropped, are on the rise once again as the regular season is set to get underway.
With a showdown with the New England Patriots just around the corner, the NFL’s website published one final rankings list, with the Steelers coming in eighth. It’s worth noting that that was the highest rank of all teams in the AFC North, and the third-highest in the conference, behind the Patriots (first) and the Kansas City Chiefs (fourth). Dan Hanzus on the team:
The Steelers are about to prove you can lose two superstars and actually get better on offense. That’s a credit to the organization’s ability to constantly restock talent at the skill positions around Ben Roethlisberger. James Conner already delivered his breakout season in place of Le’Veon Bell last year, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, at age 22, is locked in as a superstar replacement for Antonio Brown. Now keep an eye out for second-year receiver James Washington, lighter and quicker than during his rookie campaign and making plays all summer. His 41-yard touchdown catch against the Titans was his second big play of the preseason, and Pittsburgh’s incredible track record of developing wide receivers makes you think Washington will carry it over to games that count.
Add in Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson, and Ryan Switzer to round out the wide receiver group, and key players like Vance McDonald and Jaylen Samuels elsewhere on offense. Hanzus didn’t even talk about the defense, which saw significant upgrades at inside linebacker and in the secondary.
Even with the absence of Brown, it’s hard for me not to see this Steelers team as more capable than the group that they fielded a year ago. They may lack his star power, but this is a more well-rounded group, both on offense and defense, with more versatility and more players ready and able to contribute meaningfully, insulated against injury.
With the regular season about to get underway, I don’t know about you, but I remain excited about not just Steelers football, but the prospects that they can win a Super Bowl. They’ll have some serious trials right out of the gates with the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, but their season shouldn’t be defined—win or lose—by a couple of games.