By the time the clock strikes midnight tonight, the first game of the 2020 season will (likely) be in the books as they host the Houston Texans in the first game seeking to defend their first Super Bowl title as a franchise in 50 years.
And that will mean it’s just four more days until the Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the Monday Night Football schedule with the New York Giants, as they look to prove that, with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, they are just as good and just as talented as any other team in the league, and should be considered among the top Super Bowl contenders in 2020.
They would have a lot easier time pitching that argument, as it turns out, if they weren’t playing in the same division as the Baltimore Ravens, with starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has gotten off to one of the great hot starts in NFL history. He is 19-3 in his first two seasons as a starter, and was just the second-ever unanimous league MVP a year ago, breaking the quarterback rushing record while also leading the league in touchdown passes.
Thanks to the Raven in the room, there are few who expect the Steelers to win the AFC North. In fact, the league’s own website recently polled 35 analysts, and 28 of them picked the Ravens to win. One voted for the Cleveland Browns. The others, including both Dan Hanzus and Jim Trotter, who believe the Steelers will win the Super Bowl, also picked them to win the division.
Not only is Pittsburgh on a two-year drought from winning the AFC North, they haven’t even reached the postseason during that time. They were just edged out in each of the past two seasons in the finale, going 9-6-1 in 2018 and 8-8 in 2019, culminating in a disastrous three-game losing streak.
They were nearly the number one seed in the AFC, however, in 2017, hoisted by their own petard—or rather the ground, against the Patriots. They went 13-3 that season and very nearly, as mentioned, ended up 14-2, earning the number two seed, before the Jacksonville Jaguars somehow managed to run over them, while the Killer Bs took care of the Jaguars’ up-to-that-point great defense.
The Steelers did really seem to have been putting something together between 2016 and 2017, right up to Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury, which set the defense back about two years. But they were able to maneuver their way back to an accelerated pace with key additions throughout 2019.
Now they have a great defense, and an offense that has a lot of talented players that they just have to put all together. The question marks on that side of the ball are what have people continuing to hedge on whom they expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to be in 2020. But very soon we’ll begin to find out.