The Pittsburgh Steelers endured a disappointing end to the 2020 season, crashing out at the hands of the Cleveland Browns in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs. It was the Browns’ first victory in the post-season since 1995 and presented the Steelers with a worrying look into the future in the AFC North. Cleveland emerged as a solid team under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, while Baker Mayfield displayed an appetite for playoff football.
The Browns battled the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium, narrowly losing out in the Divisional Round. It highlights the threat to the Steelers in the AFC North, while the Baltimore Ravens should also be in contention for the divisional crown. The Cincinnati Bengals should not be doubted either with Joe Burrow displaying outstanding pedigree as a rookie before his injury. As a result, Mike Tomlin and his team face a battle to remain the dominant force in the north and competitive in their bid to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2010 season.
The Steelers are backed in the American football odds at +320 to win the AFC North next term behind the Ravens and the Browns in the minds of the sportsbooks. There are valid reasons for that belief given the performance of Ben Roethlisberger in the playoff defeat to the Browns. His four interceptions allowed the Browns to canter into a comfortable lead, and has epitomized the issues of the franchise in the post-season of late.
Three of their last four defeats in the post-season have come at home against teams that possessed inferior regular season records, and included lowly franchises such as the Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Something drastic needs to change if the Steelers are to reach the Super Bowl before Roethlisberger’s career ends, which could come sooner rather than later.
Pittsburgh were the runaway leaders in the AFC Conference, beginning with an incredible 11-0 start on the 2020 campaign. However, there were signs towards the end of the regular term that the wheels had fallen off the wagon, losing four out of their last five games. Key players are beginning to age such as Roethlisberger along with Joe Haden, David DeCastro and Cameron Heyward. Depth on the offensive line and linebacker has been whittled away in the off-season with the departures of Alejandro Villanueva and Bud Dupree. There is a lot of pressure on T.J Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick to carry the fortunes of the defense next term and become the next leaders on the field.
The Steelers made the surprising selection of Najee Harris in the first round of the NFL Draft. Running back was not seen as the major position of need and there were quality players available further down the selection process. However, the Steelers’ hierarchy chose to pick the former Alabama Crimson Tide man, who did enjoy an outstanding college career. If he becomes C.J McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley then Pittsburgh have made a solid choice. If not, it looks foolish to take a player in a position where value can be found further down the board.
Talent remains on the offense with Chase Claypool and Juju Smith-Schuster, and as long as Roethlisberger remains upright they should put points on the board. Against the elite teams that could become an issue, and unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the Ravens and the Steelers are trending in the right direction with younger rosters. The 2021 campaign could be a crux moment for the franchise.