After a great conclusion to the 2022 NFL season that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers narrowly miss the playoffs, optimism is high surrounding the team. Throw in a good draft and an active free agency period that saw the team fill a lot of holes, and the Steelers returning to the playoffs after a year hiatus wouldn’t be too unexpected. One of the biggest factors in Pittsburgh returning to the postseason will be the play of quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Pickett had an okay rookie season but really started to improve down the stretch, helping the team claw back from a 2-6 hole to finish 9-8. Because of his improved play, which saw him have a TD/INT ratio of 5/1 in the last nine weeks, CBS Sports writer Cody Benjamin believes Pickett has one of the best chances to take a leap out of most young quarterbacks.
“The second-year man still has lots of room to grow after a rookie year defined more by late-season grit than eye-popping playmaking,” wrote Benjamin. “But the Steelers have a better line, now featuring ex-Eagles starter Isaac Seumalo, as well as an underrated skill group that includes Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson and Pat Freiermuth. If Mike Tomlin’s always tough ‘D’ is also intact, it’s not crazy to think this team could be a sneaky playoff contender.”
When healthy, the Steelers defense is an elite unit that can win games by itself. Just take a look at Week One vs the Cincinnati Bengals last season when the defense singlehandedly won that game. If Pickett can at least play like he did down the stretch, when he took care of the ball and was able to lead game-winning drives, the Steelers will be fighting for a playoff spot. If he takes a leap and the defense stays healthy, they are a lock for the playoffs.
Pittsburgh clearly believes in Pickett. They have surrounded him with loads of talent and built up an offensive line that is poised to give Pickett more time in the pocket. While Pickett’s first-season numbers weren’t anything great — throwing seven touchdowns, nine interceptions, and for 2,404 yards — it is hard to deny that he did not look better as the year went on.
The supporting cast is there for Pickett and the Steelers, but this is a quarterback-driven league. The Steelers will go as far as Pickett takes them. As long as he doesn’t regress the team should be fighting for a playoff spot once again this season.