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Steelers atop list of non-playoff teams expected to rebound in 2014

It's not the list they'd prefer to top, but ESPN picked Pittsburgh as top non-playoff team on the verge of good things.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Steelers are No.1.

It's not the list they aspire to top, but Pittsburgh is ranked as the top team on ESPN's list of non-playoff teams expected to "trend up" in 2014.

Despite its 8-8 record, the Steelers are ranked ahead of Arizona, who finished second on the eight team list after posting a 10-6 record last year under first year head coach Bruce Arians. Arians was the quarterbacks coach then the offensive coordinator during the Steelers' run of three Super Bowls appearances in six seasons.

Houston and New York checked in at the No.3 and No.4 spots, respectively. The Texans hired Bill O'Brien this offseason after the team lost their final 14 games in 2013. They are potentially in the mix to draft 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Rex Ryan and the Jets hope an offseason of maturation and more work with the team's offensive brass will help quarterback Geno Smith be more consistent in 2014 after an 8-8 season.

St. Louis, Tennessee, Buffalo and Jacksonville rounded out the list. The Bills are the only team not to make the playoffs this century.

In the article, Scott Brown justified the Steelers' ranking by writing the following:
"An offense that came together in the second half of the season will return most of its starters. History also favors the Steelers not missing the playoffs three seasons in a row; the previous time that happened was 1998-2000."

After advancing to at least the second round of the playoffs in five of the previous six years, the Steelers went 7-9 in 1998. They went 6-10 in '99 and started 0-3 in '00 before winning nine out of their final 13 games. Their non-playoff drought ended in 2001 by going 13-3 and reaching the AFC Championship Game.

Personnel decisions will loom large in the Steelers' season. Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel will most likely be asked to adjust their contracts, while the Emanuel Sanders situation will also be played out in the coming months.