If you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are, you’re not going to be happy with ESPN’s latest projections over the Steelers’ 2021 season.
Using their 2021 Football Power Index, described as a mathematical model based on “projected starting quarterback, returning starters and past performance on offense, defense and special teams” in a simulation run 20,000 times, they project the Steelers to win 8.2 to 8.8 games this season.
In other words, an 8-9 season. That would be the first losing record under Mike Tomlin and the Steelers’ first since 2003, when they went 6-10.
The FPI index goes a couple steps further and calculates their odds of making the playoffs and winning the AFC North. They give the Steelers just a 32.5% chance of making the playoffs and 12.4% odds of winning their division. Here’s how those numbers stack up to the rest of the North.
According to their model, the Steelers are looking up — way up — at the Ravens and Browns. Unsurprisingly, the Steelers are also given very low odds of making the AFC Title Game (5.6%), going to the Super Bowl (2.1%) and ultimately winning it (0.8%). By contrast, the Browns are given over a 5% chance to hoist the Lombardi, a sign of how much different the landscape looks compared to even two or three years ago.
Though the model doesn’t explicitly outline its biggest issues with the Steelers, an aging QB, a difficult schedule, and tough division all likely play big roles into why Pittsburgh’s chances are so remote. According to the index, the Steelers have the second-toughest strength of schedule only behind the Chicago Bears. Comparatively, the Ravens (13th) and Browns (30th) have much easier paths.
The Steelers were ultimately scored with a 0.1 on the FPI scale, effectively calling them the 17th-best team in the league. The defense was given a score of 2.2 (third-best) while the offense was scored -2.1 (T-7th worst). Special teams graded out neutral at 0.0.
The Kansas City Chiefs were given the highest odds to make the playoffs at 89.1% and win the Super Bowl at 18.5%. Tampa Bay, last year’s champs, were second in both categories. The Houston Texans are the longest of longshots, just a 3.1% chance to make the playoffs and a zero percent chance to win the Super Bowl. They were given just 0.1% odds of even reaching the AFC Championship game but hey, so you’re saying there’s a chance.
Of course, this all is the “on-paper” analysis. All that matters is what takes place each Sunday. So much can and will change over the course of the next four weeks, let alone how the NFL world looks three months from now. But if you’re into crunching the numbers, they don’t look good for the black and gold.