The Pittsburgh Steelers are going into the season with an expectation that they will finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the league.
While they certainly aren’t expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL, many aren’t predicting them to make too much noise in a crowded AFC, with powerhouses like the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills expected to hold the top spots.
Teams like the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers are also expected to be strong this season. That’s seven teams, enough for all the playoff spots, and we haven’t even mentioned the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, both of whom are also expected to perform well.
That’s reflected in several power rankings across the internet.
I’m starting to wonder if this is too low. The Steelers were hot down the stretch last season, winning seven of their last nine games (including four straight at the end), and all they did this preseason was blowtorch their three opponents. The latter must be weighed carefully, but it was hard not to see how fluid and explosive the first-team offense looked (five TDs in five drives). The AFC North should be one of the best divisions, and the 49ers will be a stiff Week 1 test, but the schedule really does lay out nicely for Pittsburgh. All of this depends on Kenny Pickett making a Year 2 jump. Also, the defense needs to give up fewer big plays, but most arrows appear to point upward.
Yahoo! Sports writer Frank Schwab had the Steelers one spot higher at No. 13.
Another key for the Steelers is T.J. Watt is healthy. After Watt came back from injury last season, the Steelers led the NFL in yards allowed per game. Pair that defense with an up-and-coming offense, and there’s plenty of reason for Steelers optimism this season.
Bleacher Report also had the Steelers hovering around the middle at No. 14.
The Steelers have weapons on offense in wide receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth. Pittsburgh has long fielded a solid defense anchored by, arguably, the NFL’s best defensive player in edge-rusher T.J. Watt.
But in a division that contains at least two superstar quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, Pickett is going to have to up his game in Year 2 for the Steelers to have a chance to be relevant in the AFC North.
Perhaps the Steelers will move up the rankings next week if they can beat the San Francisco 49ers at home on Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium.