clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ESPN predicts the Steelers to rebound and still finish with 10 wins this season

Things are doom-and-gloom among Steelers fans, but ESPN might have just given the fan base a new sense of hope.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

To be totally honest, I don’t read ESPN’s work much anymore. Not only do I create Pittsburgh Steelers content, but there always seems to be a better venue where I can find quality content.

But when I was checking various websites recently, I was stunned when I saw an article which painted the Steelers in a positive light. At this point, I’m willing to read anything positive regarding the Black-and-gold.

With the fan base figuratively foaming at the mouth in anger after the first two weeks trying to figure out how this team can crawl out of its 0-1-1 hole, that’s an interesting task to undertake.

Thankfully, Bill Barnwell of ESPN did just that, as he went through all of the teams currently at 0-2, or 0-1-1 in Pittsburgh’s case, to see what the chances are of them making the playoffs.

Take a look at what he thinks of the Steelers’ chances — the concerns he has and where he sees them ending up. A pretty good read, if I say so myself.

Preseason playoff odds: 77.7 percent

Current playoff odds: 36.6 percent

The Steelers don’t technically belong on this list as an 0-1-1 team, but I’m sneaking them in because they seem to be in disarray. Pittsburgh is a blocked field goal away from 0-2. It just allowed Patrick Mahomes to throw six touchdown passes in his third career start. Le’Veon Bell doesn’t appear to be on his way to work anytime soon. Antonio Brown is daring ex-Steelers PR people to trade him away, then missed practice on Monday. FPI suggests the Steelers’ slow start has slashed their playoff odds by more than half. Pittsburgh was not supposed to be in crisis by mid-September.

I think the Steelers are going to be fine. Let’s start with the easy stuff. Brown isn’t going anywhere. Pittsburgh would incur $29 million in dead money over the next two years if it traded the star wideout. Even if the Steelers traded Brown next year, they would be responsible for divvying up $21 million on their cap over the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. They would be hitting the reset button on their team by trading Brown. It’s not worth talking about again.

There are other elements of Pittsburgh’s slow start that I wouldn’t expect to recur. Normally reliable kicker Chris Boswell has missed both of his field goal tries wide left. The Steelers recovered two of the eight fumbles in their games this season, including going 0-for-4 against the Browns. That’s total randomness, and the Steelers won’t have too many games in which they turn the ball over six times, as they did in Week 1. Keith Butler’s defense isn’t going to keep allowing six points per red zone trip. These sorts of things can happen over a two-game sample, but they feel more meaningful because they happened to come during the first two games of the season.

There are genuine concerns about this team, though, and the issues aren’t surprising. Pittsburgh sorely misses Ryan Shazier, and it didn’t do enough to replace him this offseason. The Steelers are using athletic special-teamer Jon Bostic as a regular inside linebacker, playing more than 60 percent of defensive snaps, and Bostic just hasn’t been successful against the pass in any of his three previous NFL stops. The Steelers also converted Sean Davis into a full-time free safety, and he was overwhelmed against the Chiefs, though he looked solid in the Browns game.

Injuries are also a short-term concern for what was the league’s fourth-healthiest team a year ago. The Steelers lost cornerback Joe Haden during the Browns game, and Cleveland was able to pick on Cameron Sutton during its comeback. (Sutton later came up with an interception on an underthrown Tyrod Taylor pass.) Haden should be back this week, but star guard David DeCastro doesn’t yet have a timetable for a return after breaking his hand. Brown is struggling with quad and calf injuries, though he has managed to average 80 receiving yards per game.

At the same time, this team just hasn’t been bad enough to justify any sort of significant early-season concerns. The pass rush has been excellent, and while it got home more frequently against Taylor and the Browns, Pittsburgh ranks second in pressure rate (40.5 percent) through two weeks. Bell fill-in James Conner was effective as a runner in Week 1, and the Steelers rank eighth in the league in offensive expected points added through two weeks. The pass defense looked awful against the Chiefs, but I think a lot of pass defenses are going to be ripped apart by Mahomes, particularly during this first month of the season as Andy Reid shows off what he has been working on over the summer. The Browns even went into New Orleans and nearly beat the Saints, so a tie in Cleveland might not be as disappointing as it seemed at the time.

Anybody expecting another 13-3 season was likely to be disappointed, given that Pittsburgh went an unsustainable 8-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer in 2017. A more reasonable expectation for 2018 would have been a 10-win season, and barring a rash of injuries, the Steelers should still be able to get there by the time they get to the end of the season.