Hope. It's what many sports fans cling to when it comes to their favorite teams. The hope that they're better than last year. The hope that they can compete for a championship.
It can be a perilous drive down Hope Boulevard, but when your driver is Ben Roethlisberger, the odds of getting to your destination increase greatly.
Strap on your seat belt for one wild ride.
I'm not totally convinced this edition of the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers will be one that breaks the two-year slide of non-playoff football. There were some good off-season, free agent signings and the draft yielded some picks that should help right away.
But even that might not be enough to get back to the post-season.
To say it all revolves around the play of Ben is a slight understatement since he personifies this team as the undisputed leader and focal point of the club. Contract-extension talks aside, Ben needs to have a career year, mostly because we don't know how improved the defense will be (if at all) from last year. If they aren't, then Ben must elevate his play.
We know he has Antonio Brown and Heath Miller to get the ball to. The money question, of course, is how the rest of the receiving corps will perform, given the loss of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Justin Brown and Martavis Bryant will need to show they can be counted on. If healthy, can Lance Moore fit in? And how will Dri Archer impact the offense?
As for the running game, that also has some people wondering, given the off-field Cheech and Chong preseason antics of LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell just two weeks ago. The Steelers will need to run the ball more effectively to give the passing game some sort of breather. Much of that, of course, is dependent on the offensive line.
Their play should be improved with the return of Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum's steady and improving play at left tackle. Guards David Decastro and Ramon Foster continue to get better also. If they stay healthy, it'll give the team a chance to have a solid unit in the upcoming season.
The team signed Shaun Suisham to an extension recently, so that speaks highly of their confidence in him. Now if they can just get consistency from their punter, special teams will be fine.
The true question mark on this team is whether it can apply pressure on opposing QB's. Can they force turnovers and not resemble a sieve up front against the run? So many questions, but it's only a matter of time before we get the answers.
The signing of Brett Keisel was nothing more than a reach at best. The youngsters up front must prove they can stop the run. That's the charge facing Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas. This team ranked 27th against the run last year, a very un-Steelers-like ranking.
As for the linebackers, the addition of Ryan Shazier should help but it's the outside guys that really key this Dick LeBeau defense. Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds will have a lot of eyes on them.
Finally, the much-maligned secondary that has been exploited by opposing QBs at times over the years. Ike Taylor isn't as fast as he used to be. Cortez Allen just signed a big new contract. Will the free-agent signing of Mike Mitchell pay off and will Troy Polamalu stay healthy and wreak havoc as he has done in years past?
I've gone back and forth in predicting a final win total for the 2014 season. In my view, it really will come down to how this defense performs. Can they improve on 19 turnovers and 34 sacks? That's simply not enough for a defense that has produced much better numbers in the past. We all know that, to win a Super Bowl, those stats need to grow.
I feel that Shazier will have some impact but will still face a rookie learning-curve. The D-Line must play better and get some stops because the offense won't always be able to bail them out.
Given how little this team needs to travel and the way the Steelers' division looks to be a bit down from last year, you can't help but think the 2014 Steelers might win 10 games. But that'll take a bit of luck; 9-7 is what I see. As for the playoffs, well, that may need to wait for another year.
John Phillips is a radio personality for 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh and a columnist for Behind The Steel Curtain. Check him out on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.