If power rankings ahead of the 2022 regular season are any indication as to how the national media perceives the Pittsburgh Steelers and their chances throughout a year of transition, the black and gold could be in for a bumpy ride.
That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the Steelers sat around No. 20 overall in the power rankings all offseason. However, with actual football to lean on from the preseason, it’s a bit of a surprise that the Steelers didn’t move much at all, especially after the performances the quarterbacks put on throughout training camp and the preseason in the black and gold, alleviating some concerns overall.
However, it won’t truly matter until games kick off on Sunday at 1 p.m. when they really count.
For The Athletic, the Steelers are projected to win seven games in 2022 based on projections from Austin Mock’s advanced model, which allows him to simulate the NFL season 100,000 times. That feels a bit low for the Steelers, even with major concerns along the offensive line. Good news is they have Mike Tomlin steering the ship, an offense loaded with playmakers and a defense that has the chance to be one of the best in the NFL overall.
“Mike Tomlin’s 15-year streak without a losing record is preposterous, and even though quarterback is a significant question mark, it’s hard to expect either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett to be a significant downgrade from the broken-down Ben Roethlisberger of the past few seasons,” Wulf writes regarding the Steelers’ ranking at No. 19 overall. “If the defense can be more like the 2020 version, this could be a surprise playoff contender.
“By all accounts, the Steelers’ offseason plan to upgrade their offensive line has gotten off to a disastrous start. Not only could that torpedo their season, but it could affect the team’s willingness to hand the reins to Pickett so as not to ruin the rookie’s confidence in the pocket.”
There’s no denying the issues along the offensive line in Pittsburgh. Though it’s still early under a new position coach teaching a new technique, early returns have not been promising. That said, they were better in the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions than they were all summer long, so there’s a semblance of hope there.
As Wulf writes, if the defense can return to its 2019 and 2020 ways, forcing turnovers at a high rate and fixing some issues against the run, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t be a playoff contender once again.
In NFL.com’s power rankings by Hanzus, the Steelers didn’t move from their offseason ranking of No. 21 overall, holding down the spot between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns. Though it still feels a bit too low from Hanzus, I have to give him credit for not truly overreacting one way or another all offseason, sticking to his guns and waiting to see how it plays out in the regular season.
Much like Wulf with The Athletic though, Hanzus is very concerned about the play up front in the trenches for the black and gold. Seems to be a popular concern with the Steelers and one of the few warts this team truly has at the moment.
“The Steelers struggled to protect the quarterback and open up running lanes in 2021, and a look at the 2022 blocking front doesn’t spark enormous confidence that things are about to change,” Hanzus writes regarding the Steelers’ ranking at No. 21 overall. “Pro Football Focus ranked the Steelers’ line 30th out of 32 teams back in June, all the more reason to start the season with a mobile veteran at QB in Mitch Trubisky rather than green rookie Kenny Pickett. In an ideal world, the line settles in as the season progresses, which opens the door for Pickett to enter a less-volatile situation when his opportunity comes.”
In an ideal world, as Hanzus writes, things come together up front, allowing the Steelers to compete for a playoff spot once again. In an ideal world as well, Mitch Trubisky plays well, adds a new dimension to the Steelers’ offense that was missing last season with his legs, and Pittsburgh continues to be the talk of the league due to its surprising contention one season after losing a Hall of Fame quarterback and undergoing significant change in the front office.
Things don’t always work out ideally, but there’s some hope for this Steelers team, as long as the offensive line figures things out quickly in the regular season. Here’s betting that Pittsburgh rises up the power rankings throughout the season into the top half of the league (No. 15 and above), at least at some point.