The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, not too long ago, gave odds for the winner of Super Bowl 51, before Super Bowl 50 has even kicked off. At the top were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots - all at 8-1 odds - and at the bottom are the Cleveland Browns at 200-1.
Being as Pittsburgh hasn't had a playoff win in five years until this 2015 post season, while they didn't even win the AFC North, this may come as a shock to some. This is not a shock to me. When looking at the performance of the team this year with such a difficult schedule, getting to the playoffs and then winning a game against the Bengals no less, whilst riddled with injury problems, it is clear that this team could be headed to the top.
Even former head coach Bill Cowher agrees with this sentiment. The reason for this is threefold - the current roster has not peaked in performance, the holes that are needed to be filled in the offseason are few and far between and the schedule is one that, in comparison to this year, is not a difficult one. Pittsburgh's best shot in the coming years for a Super Bowl win is in 2016.
The current roster has less issues than people think. The only area where there is real lacking is the secondary, the rest, not so much. I'm not going to go into why the receiver corps is so great, because by now we should all know how great they are, and they are unlikely to change at all for next season.
What will change are the running backs. Le'Veon Bell will not be injured for one - his ban at the start of the season and then subsequent injury meant he missed ten games. That alone is disastrous. Then look at DeAngelo Williams, also injured for the playoffs, leaving everyone to think what if against Denver if he or Bell had been on the roster. These are great running backs who will be back for next season, giving Pittsburgh's offensive dominance the boost it could have used this season.
Roethlisberger is another player who, without injury, could and would have made a huge amount of difference this year. He failed to start every game, and yet still threw for nearly 4,000 yards. The offensive line, a position that people think is a concern, and is when looking into longevity of the players here, is one of the best in the NFL. Another position damaged by injury, that will be dealt with in the offseason with the return of Kelvin Beachum and Maurkice Pouncey.
The defense is a little less satisfactory, but is still something to be optimistic about. Ryan Shazier showed his explosiveness against the Denver Broncos, and proved his worth against Cincinnati in the Wild Card game with a forced fumble against Jeremy Hill. Stephon Tuitt intercepted Andy Dalton (his first INT), showing that he has speed, and more importantly awareness, to make a difference. William Gay, Antwon Blake, Jarvis Jones and Ross Cockrell all showed that they can play too - there is hope in the defense is my point. They're going to get better, some are still young, but take Bud Dupree for example, a young player can make major gain after getting tons of experience in one season. This defense, come week one, is going to be a completely different monster.
On the other hand, I'm sure by this point a couple readers have already commented about the porous secondary of the defense and how this will be their downfall. Thank God for the offseason. Let's look at what Pittsburgh really needs - cornerbacks and safeties. Cornerbacks hitting free agency are - Leon Hall, Sean Smith, Prince Amukamara, Greg Toler and Jerraud Powers. Safeties hitting free agency - Eric Weddle, Eric Berry, Sean Richardson, Walter Thurmond and Reggie Nelson. Getting even a couple of these players will liven up the secondary. The rest can be filled with the draft, of which the prospects are good - Eli Apple at CB, Darian Thompson at FS and Jeremy Cash would all work well. Defensive line is a similar situation, Haloti Ngata, Muhammad Wilkerson, Brandon Mebane and even Jason Pierre-Paul are all hitting free agency, and in the draft Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, A'Shawn Robinson and Andrew Billings would all fit well. In short, if done right, the problems with the roster can be fixed suitably in the offseason, there is no reason to think that these issues will not be sorted.
The schedule this season was monstrous. The Steelers played every team that made the playoffs this season except for the Green Bay Packers. And Pittsburgh still got into the playoffs. That fact shows how good an injured Steelers roster was; imagine a fully healed roaster going against a less challenging schedule in 2016.
Next season only three of their opponents made the playoffs - New England, Cincinnati and the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh lost to the Chiefs, but Roethlisberger was out with an injury, so Pittsburgh was already at a major disadvantage. Pittsburgh beat the Bengals twice in their three matchups this season (once in the playoffs), only losing in Week 8, so naturally most are feeling confident about them next season. Finally, New England - the one which doesn't exude confidence. The Steelers lost to them in Week one, down Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, which could have something to do with it. However, looking at how the Patriots played against Denver in the AFC Championship game, they looked weak. Looking at how Pittsburgh played Denver the week before, it looked pretty close (even with the injuries). I think that this matchup will be a close one, especially with the game being held at Heinz Field. Next season's schedule is going to be easier than the 2015 version, and it might be safe to expect great things.
All together, Pittsburgh has played pretty damn well this season, when considering injuries and the difficulty of the schedule. Being as the injuries will heal, the few failings on the roster can be fixed and next season's schedule is going to be easier than this year, there is every reason to have faith for a Pittsburgh Super Bowl win in Super Bowl 51.