Ah, the consoling, sweet strains of June speculation, how we embrace thee.
There's a whole lotta nuthin' on which to base season predictions in June except gut feelings, knee-jerk reactions and other metaphors involving limbs acting independently. NFL Network analyst and longtime NFL executive Gil Brandt is flexing all involuntary reactions, picking the Steelers to make their Ali-like return to the top of the division.
Supplanted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2011-12 (who went on to win the Super Bowl) and the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013 (who failed to win a playoff game), the Steelers' return to the postseason is highly anticipated by fans, who have suffered through three consecutive seasons without a playoff win, and toed the line of the team's first losing season since 2003.
The last two years mark a massive transition of the Steelers' roster. Older players were jettisoned to make room for, in many cases, younger and worse players. The learning curve has been steep but the reclamation project known as the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers had a heavy emphasis on athleticism and speed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
If the Steelers can return to their takeaway ways on defense, their offense should be strong enough to power through a fairly open-ended division. Cincinnati and Baltimore again look to be the main rivals, but it's tough to say any one of the three contenders are, on paper, considerably better than the others.
The Steelers have at least one supporter in the national media. Or, make that two - although ESPN analyst Herm Edwards didn't state the Steelers would win the division, his prediction of them advancing to the Super Bowl trumps the finish in the regular season.