The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the 2021 season with a 9-7-1 record, finishing the year on a 3-1 run after getting off to a 1-3 start. That was good enough to get them into the postseason, but they couldn’t muster up a win for their efforts, continuing their streak of now five seasons without a playoff victory.
Outside of the retirement of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (which admittedly is a significant change), this Steelers’ roster isn’t all that materially different from the one that produced a winning record a year ago and was generally ascending in the process. They have worked to upgrade the offensive line, have added a potential quarterback, and still have the draft to get through.
That’s why I’m not incredibly surprised to see Gregg Rosenthal include the Steelers in his ‘Contenders’ grouping in the AFC hierarchy—contenders for the postseason, that is. The highest level is the ‘bullies’, consisting of the Bills and Chiefs, followed by a five-team group listed as ‘playoffs or bust’, while Pittsburgh’s group mops up most of the rest.
Also listed as contenders by Rosenthal are the Tennessee Titans, the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins, and the Las Vegas Raiders. The only teams not ranked at least that high, in the ‘uphill battle’ category for the AFC, are the New York Jets, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Houston Texans.
Still, he didn’t have much to offer as far as his thoughts on the Steelers go, writing only, “I respect Mike Tomlin’s run without a losing record in Pittsburgh too much to put the Steelers any lower than this tier”. Perhaps the fact that he brought the Roethlisberger-less 2019 Steelers to an 8-6 record without him and nearly reached the postseason helped to factor into his decision.
Still, the road out of the AFC North won’t be any easier in 2022 than it was last year. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that every other team in the division should be tougher this go-around. The Baltimore Ravens had by far the worst health luck in the league a year ago. The Cincinnati Bengals have a very young, growing core that should get better every year for a while. And the Cleveland Browns just sold their souls for a franchise quarterback who has already proven himself on the field.
The Steelers finished 4-2 in the division, with pairs of wins over the Ravens and Browns and a pair of losses to the Bengals. 4-2 is the best-case scenario I could see them doing within the division in 2022, more likely looking at an even split. They’ll also have a fairly tough schedule overall.
So what do you think? Do you believe the Steelers are placed in the right grouping here, within the context of what Rosenthal is saying? Are they essentially a borderline playoff team in 2022, or is that unrealistic? Have they done enough to keep up with the Joneses while working on some of their deficiencies?