Preseason games start this week, which means the conjecture and speculation that have allowed us to slash through the summertime ennui and keep the message boards aflame will soon die out and we’ll be stuck making empirical and analytical observations like a bunch of chuds. “It’s Week 7, and Le’Veon Bell’s current 3.9 yards per carry average tells us that he simply isn’t the same player!” Borrrrrring.
I love hot NFL takes. “James Conner and Jaylen Samuels could easily match Le’Veon Bell’s production.” I want to shoot these takes directly into my veins. So, in that spirit, I’d like to totally forgo journalistic decorum and offer five of my own hot takes (or “bold predictions,” if that’s more palatable), and I’d like you, reader, to do likewise down in the comments section. The hotter the better. This is a safe space. I’ve written about this kind of thing before but, just as a reminder, here are a few of my coldest Steelers takes:
- Cortez Allen, Limas Sweed, and Jarvis Jones will be a Pro Bowl-caliber players.
- Ryan Shazier and T.J. Watt will not be good professional football players.
- Mike Wallace is better than Antonio Brown (this is my single worst sports take ever).
- Big Ben will throw 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a single season (he’s come awfully close to 5,000, but he’s never really threatened 40 tuddies).
- The Steelers should sign Darrelle Revis (in 2015 before he signed a $70 million with the Jets and again in 2017 after the Jets—the Jets—looked at Revis’s hollow corpse and said “Nah, we’re better than this”).
- The Steelers should sign Byron Maxwell (shortly before he signed a $60 million with the Eagles and thereafter proceeded to surrender a million touchdowns).
- The Steelers should see if Patrick Willis will un-retire to man the linebacker corps.
- Todd Haley isn’t that bad of a coach (a hill I was willing to die on for nearly five years until Haley’s dialed up a halfback toss on fourth-and-nanometers IN A PLAYOFF GAME).
You get my point. I could fill an encyclopedia with my own bad Steelers takes. I don’t know why Jeff permits me to broadcast my sports opinions on the Internet.
Anyway, despite this terrifying record of inept foreshadowing, please consider the following predictions:
Le’Veon Bell will amass 2,400 all-purpose yards
In 2016, Le’Veon Bell had what was inarguably one of the most outstanding regular-season campaigns in NFL history. Despite being limited to just 12 games (he was suspended for Pittsburgh’s first three games of the regular season and sat out their meaningless Week-17 game against Cleveland), Bell gained 1,884 yards from scrimmage—if you extrapolate Bell’s 157 yards-per-game average to a 16-game schedule, Bell would’ve set the single-season record for combined rushing and receiving yards. I can’t realistically envision a scenario in which Le’Veon Bell is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, so my guess is that Mike Tomlin is going to get his money’s worth by providing Bell with workload commensurate of a 2,500-yard halfback.
No member of the defense will finish with more than 9 sacks
Cameron Heyward very quietly solidified himself as one of the most productive defensive linemen in the NFL, proving himself capable of disrupting offensive game plans in myriad ways. In leading the team with 12 sacks, Heyward became the first Steeler since (check notes) Lamarr Woodley to cross the double-digit sack threshold.
I don’t think he’ll do it again, as getting a dozen or so sacks is a pretty tall order for what is essentially an interior defensive lineman. This isn’t to imply that Heyward will somehow regress, but to suggest that opposing defenses will commit more resources to stopping him, which is itself a strong acknowledgement of Heyward’s dominance. I think the Steelers, as a team, are gonna wind up with a ton of sacks, but will see maybe four or five guys each getting seven or eight of them.
JuJu Smith-Schuster will gain 1,000 receiving yards
This isn’t really “hot” or “bold” since Smith-Schuster gained over 900 yards as an infrequent starter in 2017, but consider this: since 2004, Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers have only had two seasons in which two different receivers gained 1,000 or more yards, Hines Ward and Santanio Holmes in 2009 and Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace in 2011. That this particular feat hasn’t occurred since 2011 is largely the result of Brown manifesting himself in Pittsburgh’s offense as an omnipotent, ball-absorbing supermassive black hole. But it’s also attributable to the lack of consistent secondary and tertiary playmakers. There are only so many targets to go around (Bell, in addition to the 25 or so carries he’ll get per game, is probably in line for at least a half-dozen targets per game, too), so there may be weeks during which Smith-Schuster is little more than a decoy. Still, I think he’s got a great shot of getting past 1,000 yards.
Terrell Edmunds will be the third-best player on the defense
Morgan Burnett’s camp absence has kinda fast-tracked Edmunds’ development (hopefully, anyway) by enabling him to take some first-team snaps that he maybe otherwise would’ve missed. This being the case, I think Edmunds has a legitimate shot to have a Cam Heyward- or Joe Haden-sized impact on the defense (Haden is the second-best player on the defense, by the way, don’t @ me).
The Steelers will advance at least to the AFC Championship
I don’t really have much to add to this. Please God, let the Steelers beat Tom Brady in the playoffs just once.
So, that’s my list. List some of your own predictions about the upcoming season down below and—please—be nice to each other.