There’s one thing I can guarantee about the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers; this team will be entertaining and they’ll be anything but boring. The big question however is whether this team can get over the ‘New England’ hump and win Super Bowl LII thus giving the team its seventh Super Bowl title.
In my opinion there are three crucial things that have to happen in order for this team to win it all. Yes, there are many factors quite frankly but these three things are head and shoulders above all others.
The Injury Bug Needs to Have Less Bite.
Let me get this out of the way… EVERY TEAM IN THE NFL DEALS WITH INJURIES. It’s football people; it’s a violent, physical game and it doesn’t care who is on your fantasy team and it doesn’t care who your favorite player is either. Injuries are going to happen.
With that out of the way, if this team is going to get to the Super Bowl it must avoid long-term or crippling injuries. Can they afford to lose Big Ben for a game? Probably. Can they afford to lose him for several weeks? Absolutely not. The same certainly goes for the other members of the ‘Killer B’s’ as well. But it goes further than that too.
The Black and Gold lack depth at inside linebacker. They have issues in the secondary. How long of an absence could they survive from let’s say, Ryan Shazier or Bud Dupree or Sean Davis? Honestly? I don’t think they can handle long-term losses to these guys. Therefore, in order to make the run many think this team can make, they will need some luck when it comes to the injury bug. It’s going to bite, the question is, how hard?
The Front Seven Have to Set the Tone.
While I believe the secondary will ultimately ‘make or break’ this defense, that can be greatly alleviated if the front seven does it’s job and more. But that’s much easier said than done. Bud Dupree has a lot of weight on his shoulders and since he is already dealing with a bad shoulder, that’s not good. How much can be expected of T.J. Watt is uncertain and how much gas James Harrison has left is also hard to read. Javon Hargrave, Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt can be disruptive as a unit but when one of them is missing, the pressure becomes less consistent.
The best Keith Butler can hope for is that this unit creates its’ pressure from everywhere and that sacks pile up from a number of different guys rather than just one or two. The longer the Steelers’ secondary has to cover, the worse they’ll become and that’s regardless of whether Joe Haden is here or not. No secondary can survive if it has to defend longer than necessary.
Home-Field Advantage is No Guarantee But It’s a Must.
Home-field advantage in the postseason doesn’t mean what it used to and I’ve fought the idea that the Steelers need it throughout the entire offseason. The reason is because if we are talking the Patriots, they’ve already proven that under Brady and Belichick that they can beat the Steelers IN HEINZ FIELD in the AFC Title Game. They’ve done it twice.
What has turned me around though is Ben Roethlisberger. Never did I dream, especially after the road traveled to the Super Bowl XL title, would Big Ben struggle so much on the road. If you need the raw numbers, check them out in Ian’s ‘Behind the Numbers‘ piece written this week. It’s truly astounding and while I don’t put it ALL on Roethlisberger, it’s clear that he needs to be on the grass of Heinz Field in order to have the best possible chance of getting this team to the Super Bowl.
My wish is that I am 100% wrong here. I don’t care what path the Steelers take to get there I just want them to get there as I know you do too. We can’t deny the reality of the situation though. A playoff road through the Steel City is this team’s best chance at Number 7.
How Things Unfold.
The Steelers are very healthy right now and that’s good. My first concern is Le’Veon Bell because I don’t care how good of shape he’s in, there’s a difference between that and being in ‘football shape.’ While I don’t wish it, I would not be shocked at all to see him deal with some sort of muscle injury in the early part of the season.
I believe Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown will have monster years which means Big Ben will be healthy for most of it. I do see him missing some time because I just don’t have faith that he’ll make it all year. Call me a downer, but I see it as common sense based on recent, past history.
The offense will carry this team to an AFC North Division title and into the postseason. I see them beating New England at home in December but they’ll finish 11-5 and a game behind the Chiefs and Patriots for the top seeds in the AFC. Once in the playoffs, the offense will sputter and force the defense to rise which it will but not quite enough. I see another AFC Title Game loss to either the Patriots or the Chiefs on one of their respective fields.
The wait for number 7 will continue.