2017 is a crucial season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and everyone around the organization knows it.
With Ben Roethlisberger inching closer to Brett Favre will-he-won’t-he play status on a yearly basis, the time to win Super Bowl No. 7 has never been stronger. The team has all of the pieces of their puzzle back on offense, and the defense might be young in spots, but showed tremendous potential in 2016.
After an 11-5 record, and a trip to the AFC Championship game, some are wondering just how the team will perform in 2017. The Steelers have the 27th ranked strength of schedule next season, which could set them up for success.
After the 2017 NFL Draft, Football Outsiders released their latest projections for the upcoming regular season, and Steelers fans should quite happy with how they see Pittsburgh’s season panning out.
Here is how they see the AFC North breaking down:
Pittsburgh Steelers: 13-3 (12.9 mean wins; SOS: 27)
Baltimore Ravens: 8-8 (8.2 mean wins; SOS: 25)
Cincinnati Bengals: 8-8 (8.2 mean wins; SOS: 26)
Cleveland Browns: 5-11 (5.2 mean wins; SOS: 16)
Pittsburgh and New England come out far ahead of the rest of the league in our forecast, with the Steelers powered by the best offensive projection in the league. Pittsburgh has exceptional offensive line continuity, as all five starting linemen have been with the Steelers for at least four seasons. Pittsburgh may have the best running back and the best wide receiver in the league, and we can expect some rebound from Ben Roethlisberger after an inconsistent 2016 season. Baltimore has moved up a bit from our April projections and Cincinnati has moved down, a function of what's written above about defensive draft picks vs. offensive draft picks. (The Ravens used their top four picks on defensive players, while the Bengals took wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon with their first two selections.)
The 13-3 prediction would be a tremendous improvement for the black and gold, and also have them vying for a first round bye, home field advantage and possibly a No. 1 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
Football Outsiders put their projections across the AFC, and, according to these projections, the Steelers would get that bye, but not the top seed.
Full AFC standings
1. New England
5. Baltimore (wild card?)
6. Kansas City (wild card?)
7. Cincinnati (wild card?)
15. New York Jets
Cincinnati, Baltimore and Kansas City all have mean projections within 0.05 wins of each other, so specifically designating two of them as projected wild cards is somewhat meaningless.
Although the road to Super Bowl 52 wouldn’t go through Heinz Field, the Steelers finishing with a 13-3 record, and only playing the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game again, would be close to a best-case scenario for the boys from the Steel City.