The 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers are set for a bit of a redemption season. In 2019 a lot of pieces came together, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, but with the injury of Ben Roethlisberger the team never really had a shot to make a splash in the postseason. By all reports, Ben is ready to go this year which provides a good deal of hope for the outcome of the 2020 season.
In this series, I will break down 2 games at a time, give some historic precedence, and ultimately give a prediction based on my findings.
Here are some notable 2020 Steelers win and loss totals from experts and models around the media:
For the most part, it seems that national media and betting sites are bearish on the 2020 Steelers, besides a couple bullish outliers that see things differently.
With the return of almost all of a very strong defense and the return of a previously injured franchise quarterback, also coupled with the 2nd easiest strength of schedule in 2020 (.457) the media consensus seems a bit low.
Since Ben Roethslisberger joined the team in 2004, the Steelers have averaged 8.938 wins through their first 14 games – good enough for a 63.84% average win rate. By this point in the season, it is firmly cold weather football in Pittsburgh, which Ben has thrived in throughout his career, particularly under Mike Tomlin. Since 2013, the Steelers have a staggering 24-9 record (.727) in the months of December and January – famously wrapped up by Mike Tomlin back in 2009 when he claimed the Steelers would “unleash hell” in December.
With all that context in mind, I will break down the 13th and 14th games on the Steelers’ schedule in 2020.
Week 14 – December 13th – at the Buffalo Bills
The Steelers and Bills will face off in primetime on Sunday Night Football in early December. Sound familiar? This game will take place almost a year to the exact date later as 2019’s sloppy primetime matchup that ended 17-10 in favor of Buffalo. That game was a showcase of equal parts defensive brilliance and complete slop on the offensive side of the ball – featuring 4 interceptions by Devlin Hodges. The 2020 matchup, should the injury bug not hit again, will likely look a bit different without Hodges leading the Steelers’ offense.
The Bills finished the 2019 season as the 3rd best defense total yards against and the 2nd best in points against. This represents, on paper, the toughest defense the Steelers should face in the 2020 season. The Bills were extremely active in free agency making 12 (!!) signings adding important pieces like Josh Norman and Mario Addison, not to mention trading for Stefon Diggs. The Diggs trade in particular should bode well for the Bills. Josh Allen made great strides from his 1st to 2nd season, cutting his interceptions down by 25% while outright doubling his touchdown production. Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley combine to make a pretty formidable receiving corps that should only help Allen progress into his 3rd season.
Steelers vs. Bills all time record: 16-10-0
Steelers at Bills: 6-7-0
Last match result: 17-10 Bills (2019)
Notable free agent additions: WR Stefon Diggs (trade), CB Josh Norman, OLB Mario Addison, S Jordan Poyer, ILB/ST Tyler Matakevich
Notable draft picks: DE A.J. Epenesa, RB Zack Moss, QB Jake Fromm
Key match-up to watch: Ben Roethlisberger vs. a top defensive unit. Ben Roethlisberger’s only game he started and finished in 2019 was against the Patriots who boasted the league’s top defense in 2019. Ben did not fare so well in this game, completing 27 passes for 276 yards with 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. When reflecting on the last several years of Ben’s career, he has not fared so well against top defensive units, especially when the Steelers are forced to abandon the run and attempt nearly 50 passes. Another that comes to mind is the Jaguars defense that forced 5 interceptions and allowed 0 touchdowns on 55 attempts in 2017.
Highlight from last match:
Score Prediction: Steelers 13, Bills 17. (9-4)
Week 15 – December 21st – at the Cincinnati Bengals
The Steelers and Bengals rivalry has had some contentious and heated moments, but overall is about as one sided as it gets between two division rivals in the NFL. Since the beginning of the Ben Roethlisberger era, the Steelers have gone 25-7 against the Bengals, not including the playoffs. Out of those 16 seasons, the Steelers and Bengals split the series on 6 occasions. The Bengals have swept the Steelers 1 time and the Steelers have swept the Bengals a whopping 10 times – including the past four years straight. Overall the Steelers have gone 11-5 at home and 14-2 in Cincinnati. Despite some rocky years for the Steelers in recent past, they are on the longest streak of domination against the Bengals that they have had during the Ben era.
Of course, the Bengals haven’t had this promising of a quarterback prospect during that span, so who is to say this isn’t the start of a new era for the Bengals? The Bengals might have a tough time breaking the streak in 2020, however, due to their reliance on rookies who will not have gotten hardly any practice time prior to the season due to the coronavirus. By week 15, Joe Burrow and the Bengals should have an idea of what could be during this new era.
Steelers vs. Bengals all time record: 66-35-0
Steelers vs. Texans (at home): 34-16-0
Last match result: 16-0 Steelers (2019)
Notable offseason additions: CB Mackensie Alexander, S Vonn Bell, G Xavier Su’a-Filo
Notable draft picks: QB Joe Burrow, WR Tee Higgins
Key match-up to watch: The Steelers will absolutely try to fluster the rookie quarterback and set the tone with pressure early and often. The Bengals pass protection should be a little better with some returns from injured reserve, but the Steelers led the league in both sacks and takeaways in 2019. They will no doubt try to make that the story of the game against a rookie signal caller.
Highlight from last match:
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Bengals 17. (10-4)