The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The AFC North standings will remain the same in 2020 as they were in 2018 and 2019.
Explanation: For two years running, the Baltimore Ravens won the division, finishing in first place, with the Steelers placing second, the Cleveland Browns a narrowish third, and the Cincinnati Bengals representing the caboose. On paper, it’s reasonable to assume that’s a pretty likely outcome for next season as well.
The Ravens are clearly the class of the AFC North, one of the top teams in all of football. Nobody has really had a very good and easily replicable answer for beating them. They might not go 14-2 in 2020, but they’ll surely win enough to make it back to the postseason.
The Steelers’ defense too major strides last year, and with better play from the quarterback position—with or without Ben Roethlisberger—that should be enough to keep the Ohio teams at bay for now. The Browns are still a dumpster fire, adjusting to a new regime, so that will take some time to get right, as they hover around the .500 mark.
As for the Bengals, they are probably going to draft Joe Burrow, but he’s not going to magically fix everything, not as a rookie. Will they even have A.J. Green to throw to? The defense still needs a lot of work as well.
If the Steelers have Roethlisberger, which is the plan as of now, then they will be able to compete with the Ravens. The Steelers have the better defense, when all is said and done, with a more consistent and productive pass rush, which can give them the edge in head-to-head games with even competent showing from the offense.
The Browns could go either way. It depends on Baker Mayfield and what he looks like, and who he has around him. It’s not out of the picture that they could finish anywhere between first and fourth. As for Burrow—well, Mayfield had a significant impact on the Browns in 2018, and Burrow is arguably an even better prospect. Depending on who they have to throw to—Tyler Boyd and John Ross isn’t a bad start—they don’t have to finish in the basement yet again.