Of course, they've got to get through the regular season first. Each new season presents a new set of challenges, and the Steelers are already faced with two big ones, the losses of Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant. As most Steelers fans already know, both players have been suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Bell is gone for the first four games, while Bryant is done for the season.
Already, the red alerts are blaring in Steeler Nation.
It doesn't help that the toughest stretch of the regular season schedule appears to be the first seven games. During that span, the Steelers play four playoff teams from last year: Washington, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and New England. The fifth team, the New York Jets, finished 10-6 last season and were narrowly edged out by the Steelers for the final playoff spot on the last weekend of the regular season.
Bell's ability would certainly come in handy in these games. Fortunately, though, the Steelers have quality depth already in place. DeAngelo Williams racked up 907 yards and 11 touchdowns filling in for Bell last season. Fitzgerald Toussaint also filled in admirably in the playoffs when Williams went down, rushing for 97 yards on 29 carries in games against the Bengals and Broncos.
As far as replacing Bryant, the Steelers have taken the necessary precautions there as well. Last year, they drafted Sammie Coates, who flashed his big play ability in the playoff loss to Denver, catching 2 passes for 61 yards, including a nifty 37 yard catch and run.
The second half of the season would appear to be more comfortable, as the Steelers play four teams that had losing records in 2015: the Ravens (5-11), Cowboys (4-12), Browns (3-13), and Giants (6-10). Yet, as we've seen plenty of times during the salary cap era, teams can improve dramatically from one year to the next.
The Ravens could be one of those teams. Last year they were decimated by injuries to several key players, namely Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, and Steve Smith Sr. However, they've drafted well and signed some key free agents, including former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. If any team could bounce back from a losing record, it's John Harbaugh's Ravens.
The Cowboys also felt the injury bug's sting in 2015, as they were without Pro-Bowl quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant for much of the season. However, the Cowboys still have plenty of talent, and with a healthy Romo (always a bit of a question mark) could jump back into playoff contention.
Pittsburgh faces the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills later in the season. Both the Colts and Bills finished 8-8 last year and look to improve this season. These two contests should be especially interesting, particularly if the Steelers, Colts, or Bills are on the playoff bubble, which was certainly the case last year.
The 2015 Colts were one of the NFL's biggest disappointments. Several of their big named players, including Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton underachieved last season.
Though injuries played a significant part in derailing Luck's season, according to Indystar.com, "he was bafflingly bad before he was injured in Week 3, completing 54.7 percent of his passes (he was at 61.7 percent in 2014) with a 58.9 passer rating (96.5 in 2014), three touchdowns and five interceptions (he had 40 TDs, 16 INT in 2014)."
It's way too early for predictions but, just for fun, let's do it anyway. Merely basing this off of 2015, and with injuries and all other variables being equal, the Steelers season could (and I stress could) look like this when all is said and done:
Game one @ Redskins: win. Steelers are 1-4 in their last five season openers, but Mike Tomlin is 10-2 on Monday night.
Game two vs. Bengals: win. Bengals are still fuming over the AFC Wild Card Game, but will be without Vontaze Burfict. Plus, the Steelers are 8-1 in home openers under Tomlin.
Game three @ Eagles: loss. Steelers haven't won a game in Philadelphia since 1965.
Game four vs. Chiefs: win. Steelers don't typically lose two in a row. They'll overpower the ball-controlled, Andy Reid coached Chiefs.
Game five vs. Jets: win. Steelers at home pull out a close one here.
Game six @ Dolphins: win. Dolphins were 6-10 last season and have done little to improve during the off-season.
Game seven vs. Patriots: loss. Patriots have owned the Steelers since Tom Brady became their starter fifteen years ago.
Game eight @ Ravens: win. The Ravens won both games last season. Steelers return the favor this year.
Game nine vs. Cowboys: win. Cowboys defense has too many holes. Romo's health is still a question mark.
Game ten @ Browns: win. Browns don't have much in the way of talent this year.
Game eleven @ Colts: loss. Hard to imagine Andrew Luck not bouncing back this season. Also, the Steelers tend to struggle on the road in Indianapolis.
Game twelve vs. Giants: win. Giants were 6-10 last season. Ben should outgun Eli in this one.
Game thirteen @ Bills: win. A tricky game to call. Steelers steal a close one, maybe even in OT.
Game fourteen @ Bengals: loss. Bengals finally get their revenge.
Game fifteen vs. Ravens: win. See game eight prediction.
Game sixteen vs. Browns: win. Steelers finish on a high note.