2023 South Side Questions: How Do Steelers Stack Up Against AFC North Entering Offseason?

AFC North

The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, informally known as the South Side facility, nearing the end of the regular season. It’s where they otherwise train all year round, and the facility that Burt Lauten insists everybody refers to by its full name.

There are still unsettled questions that need answering, even deep into the year. They entered the process with questions in the starting lineup, in the scheme, and elsewhere, but new problems always arise that need to be resolved.

Even questions about who’s starting and when may not have satisfactory answers in their finality, as midseason changes are certainly quite possible, for some positions more than others. We’re also feeling out how the new coordinator posts—or posts in new contexts—end up playing out.

There’s never any shortage of questions when it comes to football, and we’ll be discussing them here on a daily basis for the community to “talk amongst yourselves”, as Linda Richman might say on Coffee Talk.

Question: How do the Steelers stack up against the rest of the AFC North as we sit here today?

I ask this question knowing perfectly well that it’s impossible to give a particularly informed answer, in some cases more than others. For instance, can we take for granted at this point that quarterback Lamar Jackson is absolutely going to be with the Baltimore Ravens in September? That’s kind of a big deal.

We can revisit this question later in March and during other periods of the offseason, but for now, with 75% of the division’s 2022 season over, how do the Steelers stack up heading into next year? What can we say concretely about these teams?

I think one thing we can say is that we might see the highest overall level of quarterback play in 2023 that we’ve seen across the board in a long time. Joe Burrow is the best passer in the division of course, and if Jackson is back, he is probably the most dangerous player, period. Kenny Pickett has a lot of potential to be very good, and Deshaun Watson can still turn things around after a turbulent past two years and play quarterback at a very high level.

Everyone in the division is also shaping up to have or continue to have a good running game—including, mercifully, even the Steelers with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren behind an offensive line that should continue to make strides, perhaps with a new starter or two.

Defensively, everybody has at least a few standouts who are locked in place and around whom the rest of the unit is built. The Steelers should theoretically have the best of the group, particularly up front with T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Alex Highsmith, but the inside linebacker group is a huge, huge question mark.

Using whatever measuring sticks and evaluation tools you choose, how would you compare the Steelers to the rest of the AFC North as we sit here today? Interestingly, everybody in the division split with everybody else in 2022, all teams going 3-3 overall with 1-1 records against each other.

As for me, I predictably have the Bengals ranked on top, with the Ravens being a question mark, not only because of the uncertainty of Jackson’s return but also because of his growing injury history. If he’s going to miss a third of the season, the Ravens aren’t going to be able to sustain success. I have Pittsburgh still ranked ahead of Cleveland overall, with optimism that Pickett and the passing game will take a significant step forward in 2023. How about you guys?

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