When you really think about it, football truly is a game of mere inches and perhaps even less. The Pittsburgh Steelers held their postseason fate in their own hands as they played rival Baltimore in week 16 last year. A win meant the playoffs while a loss meant needing to win and get help in the final week of the season.
Despite losing to a Ryan Mallett-led Ravens team, the Steelers beat the Browns in week 17 and got the help they needed when the New York Jets lost to Buffalo. Two weeks later, the Steelers were battered and bruised yet had the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos on the ropes in Denver before a third-string running back’s fumble cost them the game.
Why am I re-hashing this? Because it illustrates just how fine of a line the NFL really is and I think it’s going to be that way again in 2016 for the Black and Gold.
When addressing the 2016 Steelers, you have to talk about who isn’t here before you go any further. Martavis Bryant is gone all season. Le’Veon Bell is gone for the first three games. Bud Dupree is gone for at least the first eight games (if not longer) and the biggest prize of the Steelers’ free agent signings, Ladarius Green remains an untapped resource for one reason or another.
That’s an extraordinary amount of talent to not have at your disposal. But no one is going to feel sorry for the Steelers and Mike Tomlin knows that all too well.
So where do these Steelers finish? Let me break it down.
The schedule is not as daunting as it was a year ago but it still has some rough patches that need to be taken care of. Between November sixth and December 18th, the Steelers play seven games with five of them (BAL, CLE, IND, BUF, CIN) on the road. The good news is that they finish with two games at home but will they be able to survive that seven game gauntlet?
Knowing that stretch is there, I pointed out last week that I believe Mike Tomlin purposefully rested his stars more than usual in order to get off to a fast start. I honestly don’t know if that happens especially because of the number of guys missing the first three or more games.
Besides the players unavailable, my biggest concerns continue to be the secondary and the tight end position.
Steelers’ 2016 Final Record: 10-6, First in AFC North, Third Seed Playoffs
Why? The Steelers obviously have talent but personally, I think the offense is over-rated. Don’t get me wrong; it’s good, but it’s lacking too. Martavis Bryant was such a weapon that there was really no way to stop the passing game last year. With him gone and a unproven tight ends and receivers, this offense that everyone thinks can score 30 points per game is far less than what it was last year. Therefore, how can we expect more?
The defense will come together, especially in the secondary later in the season but early on I expect some issues. Can they generate pressure without exposing the thin group playing in the defensive backfield? I don’t think they can and Keith Butler is going to have to roll the dice more often than he’d like.
Ultimately, I believe the Steelers will be out in the second round of the Playoffs. Todd Haley has still done nothing to show me his offense can score points in the postseason. Granted, he hasn’t had his full arsenal of weapons but good coaches and good teams find ways.
Can this team get to the Super Bowl? Absolutely. Anytime you have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Cam Heyward you have a shot but I just don’t have the confidence things will fall into place for a trip to Super Bowl LI.