Days are dark in the Steel City as a fan base which is used to almost automatic success for the last two decades is writhing through a year of uncertainty and ineptitude. Between the well-documented and historic offensive struggles, and the early loss of arguably the most valuable “Jenga piece” in the game, T.J. Watt, Mike Tomlin’s typically relevant squad is anything but through the first eight weeks.
But then came Tuesday, November 1st. The sting of a blowout defeat had almost worn off, and all of a sudden the usually-quiet Steelers were active dealers as the NFL’s Trade Deadline approached. General Manager (GM) Omar Khan shipped off Chase Claypool for the Bears’ 2nd Round Pick in 2023, and also acquired cornerback help in the form of William Jackson III from the Washington Commanders for next to nothing.
Steelers fans were chatty again across social media, and this time not to rail on Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada, but to praise the organization for deft maneuvering and recognizing where the team is from a rebuilding perspective. Adding another high-level draft pick and gaining help in the secondary together benefit the now and tomorrow, and woke up a slumbering Steelers Nation.
Now, we look ahead to a softer schedule and the return of the league’s premier defender. All is not lost! There may be some real things to gain from 2022 other than a potential Top 10 draft pick. For me, the bye week represents a reset of sorts, with the prospects of a rebound on the horizon. Starting with a home date against New Orleans in Week 10, the Steelers could change the narrative of a disappointing season quickly.
Here’s how I see it all playing out:
WEEK 10: Saints at Steelers
The Steelers will be rested and healthy after a much-needed two weeks of reset time for everyone in the organization. There should be some serious juice for this game, with the Steelers returning home to Acrisure Stadium AND the expected welcoming back one Trent Jordan Watt!
I expect a simpler offense relying on a mix of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren to help take some of the load off of Kenny Pickett and complement a rejuvenated defense, and a banged-up Saints team likely coming off a hard-fought match against Baltimore is a nice setup for the Black & Gold. Pittsburgh welcomes its Steelers back to action with a home “W”.
Saints 16, Steelers 17 (Record: 3-6)
WEEK 11: Bengals at Steelers
The Bengals will be chomping at the bit for this rematch of the Week 1 surprising win for Pittsburgh in a game the Bengals likely feel they should have won, despite turning the ball over five times. The Bengals looked like a team back on track before getting walloped by Cleveland on Monday Night Football in Week 7.
The 2021 AFC Champs will be tough to sweep and, despite the likelihood of star receiver Ja’Marr Chase missing this contest, will prove to be too much to handle for a Steelers team trying to build some momentum. Steelers lose a close one.
Bengals 24, Steelers 20 (Record: 3-7)
WEEK 12: Steelers at Colts
TAKE THE UNDER!!! In all seriousness, these might be the worst two offenses in the league. The Colts are rolling out an unproven quarterback of their own for the remainder of the season and have been underwhelming at expected positions of strength, specifically along the offensive line and at running back where Jonathan Taylor was anticipated to pick up where he left off in 2021.
The Steelers matchup well with this Colts team, and defensively should be able to control the game from start to finish. Given the Colts own offensive struggles, the Steelers corresponding unit might actually be the better group in this game. I like the Steelers to win this game by about a TD.
Steelers 23, Colts 16 (Record: 4-7)
WEEK 13: Steelers at Falcons
This matchup has gotten a lot more intriguing on paper, and the Falcons would actually be favored based on the current status of these teams. The Dirty Birds are, somehow, leading a subpar division at 4-5 and will make a push for the division title. However, this is another team the Steelers should matchup well against. Atlanta does not boast an explosive passing attack, which has been Pittsburgh’s Achilles heal in 2022. This bodes well for Pittsburgh’s defense, and on the other side, the Falcons might be the worst passing defense in the league. It would not surprise me if Kenny Pickett has his best game of the season in this matchup.
Steelers 30, Falcons 20 (Record: 5-7)
WEEK 14: Ravens at Steelers
The Steelers are on a winning streak, and the fan base is starting to believe. Then the hated Ravens come into town and a hyped Pittsburgh squad rides a wave of momentum to a fast start against the Ratbirds. With the news that 2nd-year WR Rashod Bateman is now OUT for the season, an already compromised Ravens passing attack is even more undermanned. Again, a good matchup for this Steelers defense.
Offensively, confidence might be the biggest difference for this unit moving forward. If the Steelers are indeed on a bit of a winning streak and are starting to see some more complete offensive performances, I like the team’s chances of putting up a winning performance against a middling Ravens defense. The Ravens make a second half push to send it to overtime, but in the end, a Chris Boswell Field Goal is the difference in OT!
Ravens 21, Steelers 24 OT (Record: 6-7)
WEEK 15: Steelers at Panthers
Now the Steelers are really feeling themselves. A 3-game win streak has everybody asking, “Can the Steelers make a playoff push despite their slow start to the season?” But a hard-fought, extended game against the Ravens leaves the Steelers a little beat down, and with a big Christmas Eve matchup looming, the team might overlook a relatively bad, but sometimes scrappy, Panthers team on the road.
Could it be more “Mike Tomlin” than a loss to the Panthers here? It’s definitely possible, but I believe in the matchup more than anything else, and the Panthers are an ideal matchup for Pittsburgh. An uninspiring passing attack coupled with a depleted defense helps extend the Steelers win streak to 4 games and an overall .500 record. Believe it, Steelers Nation!
Steelers 20, Panthers 17 (Record: 7-7)
WEEK 16: Raiders at Steelers
By the time this Christmas Eve game starts, even the most die-hard Steelers fans will be asking for a break from the incessant reruns of Franco Harris’s fateful scoop and score in 1972. Yeah, never mind. We’ll never get over it! Play it again!
Unfortunately, I really think the Raiders will buy-in to the thought of coming into Pittsburgh and ruining Steelers fans’ historic revelry. Truth be told, the Raiders have no business being as bad as they are on offense, and I really believe this team will have things turned around themselves by December. It will be a tough matchup for the Steelers, and even the cozy confines of Acrisure Stadium won’t be enough to stave off the vengeful “Raiduhs”.
Raiders 24, Steelers 23 (Record: 7-8)
WEEK 17: Steelers at Ravens
It feels like Pittsburgh is destined to split the series with each of their division rivals. In this scenario, I believe both teams would be feeling like they have a shot at the playoffs, and potentially a division title. The Ravens are just better than the Steelers in 2022, but this TJ Watt-led defense seems to have Lamar Jackson’s number. I expect a close game, as per usual between these hated rivals. But the Ravens take Part 2 and likely the Steelers playoff hopes with it.
Steelers 13, Ravens 20 (Record: 7-9)
WEEK 18: Browns at Steelers
The “Brahnies” have an identity on offense. Their defense is getting rolling. By Week 18, these two teams will likely look totally different, but I still feel like the Steelers can't lose twice to Cleveland, especially if the defense remains healthy at this point. Who knows, the Steelers could have a win-and-in scenario (stop laughing) for the playoffs in an NFL wallowing in parity and mediocrity. The Steelers better start winning some tiebreaker games if they hope for a chance.
In reality, I see this Steelers team finishing outside the playoff race despite a strong finish to the season. This strong finish includes an encouraging win to end the year to even the score against the Browns.
Browns 22, Steelers 26 (Record: 8-9)
The Steelers season outcome will determine so much about this offseason. If Pittsburgh continues to show ineptitude on offense and the defense doesn’t rebound significantly with the return of Watt, they will likely end up with a Top 5 Draft Pick for the first time since they selected Terry Bradshaw with the 1st overall pick in 1970.
If the team were to go on a run over the next nine weeks, we can only hope that it’s because the offense’s young talents like Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, Najee Harris, and Pat Freiermuth start to click and show serious improvement and chemistry as they continue to grow. It can’t only be about the return of T.J. Watt and improved defensive play.
Growth is the key. If these key players can show growth of some significance, this season will be a success. If not, the Steelers may find that they are a little more behind in their “rebuild” process than they might like to admit.