The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
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 Steelers will finish in last place in the AFC North in 2022.
Explanation: With the Cincinnati Bengals set to participate in the Super Bowl, and the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns unlikely to have as many injury issues with their franchise quarterbacks—and the Steelers not having one—there is as good as chance as any during the 2022 season that Pittsburgh could, for the first time ever, finish at the bottom of the AFC North (they last finished at the bottom of the division in 1988 in the old AFC Central, which was the only prior time since Chuck Noll’s first season in 1969).
The Steelers were not the second-best team in the AFC North in 2022. They were just the second-healthiest. The odds of the Browns and Ravens having as many injury issues next year as they did this past year are incredibly low.
I think it’s a safe bet that the Ravens will top the Steelers in the division. They were in first place in the AFC with six games left. Then Lamar Jackson got hurt, and they lost all their remaining games, missing the postseason altogether. Baker Mayfield may not be Joe Burrow, but he can do better than he did this past year after playing hurt basically the entire season.
Oh, and the Ravens will get a bunch of running backs back healthy, as well as offensive linemen. And a couple of All-Pro cornerbacks. And the Browns are a young team that is just continuing to grow, with the resources to load up once again in free agency for reinforcements. They are likely to add a priority wide receiver this year.
The bulk of this conversation centers around the quarterback position, but let’s not forget that the Steelers managed to finish second in the AFC North just a couple years ago in a season in which Ben Roethlisberger won precisely zero games. There is enough to work with to at least field a competent team with a game-manager.
It’s possible that the AFC North will be one of the best divisions in football in 2022, with all teams being at least adequate. But it’s also true that they will have to play one another, and they’ll beat each other up and keep at least more than one team from racking up divisional wins to boost their total. The Steelers have been good in divisional play for many years, and have even been beating Jackson when he’s healthy. Granted, they’re on a losing streak to the Bengals, now, but they still typically have Cleveland’s number. And the defensive line and linebacker play can’t possibly be worse than in 2021.