It has grown popular to pick the Pittsburgh Steelers as the playoff team from the 2020 season that is most likely to fail to repeat that feat this year. One of the reasons for that is because the AFC North as a whole has become well-regarded.
They were the only division to send two teams to the playoffs last year, with the Steelers winning the division and both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns advancing as two of the three Wildcards (neither were the seventh seed, so they would have advanced in prior years as well).
They were also one of only two divisions to advance two teams to the Divisional Round—and the Steelers were not one of them, having been defeated in rather embarrassing fashion by the Browns. Which is one of the reasons the AFC North was ranked the second-strongest division in the NFL for the 2021 season, behind only the NFC West, featuring the Los Angeles Rams with Matthew Stafford, the Arizona Cardinals, the Seattle Seahawks, and the San Francisco 49ers, who just drafted Trey Lance.
Jason La Canfora provided the rankings list for CBS Sports, with the AFC West ranked third, the NFC South fourth, and the AFC East fifth. The AFC South finished worst in the rankings behind even the NFC East, which was certainly the worst division in football a year ago. He writes on the AFC North:
I am a Browns believer. Love the upgrades to the defense and the offense can beat you in a multitude of ways. If OBJ comes back and is a game-breaker, great. If not, they can still win the division. Myles Garrett will be Defensive MVP. For all the talk about how tough Baltimore’s schedule is, I still see the Ravens winning around 11 games and I think they make some gains in the passing attack. The Steelers are in decline but Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season and they could still mess around and win 8 or 9 games. The Bengals were far more competitive with Joe Burrow under center — and if they can keep him upright they will be pretty interesting to watch. I still seem them picking in the top 10 of the draft, but have the ability to knock off a quality team or two along the way. They have two teams who could make a legit Super Bowl case. That carries the day for the AFC North.
The Bengals actually had a better record after Burrow was injured, but I digress. Clearly, La Canfora is not nearly as much a Steelers believe as he is in the Browns. If Pittsburgh only wins eight games this year, it will mark their first losing season (barring an 8-8-1 record) since 2003.
Virtually every outlet I’ve come across had had the Steelers ranked in the middle tier in the power rankings this year, typically somewhere between 12th and 19th. The good news for fans is that power rankings don’t mean anything, and have no effect on the outcome of games.