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Today: The Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Year: 8-8 (2nd place in AFC North)
Man, last year was downright awful for Steelers fans. Seriously, it sucked — it started terribly and Titanic-ed at the end. The season began with four consecutive losses. Four game later, the Steelers were sitting at 2-6. At that point in the season, the playoffs weren’t a reality. The postseason was still a distance reality with three games remaining in the season, when the Steelers were 5-8. But then, the Steelers won their last three games to push their record to .500 on the season. And, with a Kansas City loss to the Chargers in week 17, Pittsburgh would be headed to the postseason as a Wild Card team. But there was a problem: the Chiefs were already guaranteed a playoff spot and decided to rest nearly all of their starters. Still, the Chiefs lined up for a go-ahead field goal with less than 10 seconds remaining on the lock. And then this happened:
To make matters worse, the Chargers should have been charged with a penalty on the play, as they lined up in an illegal defensive formation. But no flag was thrown. Ouch.
In overtime, the Chargers ran a fake punt from their own 28-yard line and picked up the first down. Then, the Chargers took the lead with a field goal. With the Chiefs forced to score on their next possession, backup quarterback Chase Daniel decided to act like he had never played quarterback before in his life.
Yeah, not allowed to cross that line and then throw the ball.
Anyways, the Steelers were eliminated from the postseason. Not to keep kicking them when they’re down, but it gets worse for the Steelers. Back in week 14, the Steelers trailed by six at the end of their game against the Dolphins when this happened:
If Brown doesn’t stop out of bounds, the Steelers make the playoffs. This is how close — we’re talking inches here — the Steelers were to the postseason:
Better luck next year.
Last Year’s Stud: Antonio Brown
The running game was downright terrible last season (more on that later), but the passing game performed admirably. Mike Wallace left for a big contract in Miami, but the Steelers’ plan of action to replace Wallace couldn’t have worked out any better. Antonio Brown wasn’t just the best receiver for the Steelers last season, he was one of the best pass catchers in the league.
110 catches, 1,499 yards, and eight touchdowns. And, he’s only 25 years old.
Runner-up: Ben Roethlisberger
Last Year’s Surprise: Emmanuel Sanders
Luckily for Roethlisberger, he also had a pretty reliable second option out there on the field. In three seasons, Sanders had only averaged around 31 catches per season, which it not nearly enough production to be considered a starting receiver. Sanders’ fourth year was vastly different. For the first time in his career, he was targeted over 100 times. He managed to turn those 112 targets into 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns.
Runner-up: Jerricho Cotchery
Last Year’s Disappointment: Le’Veon Bell
As previously mentioned, the running game for Pittsburgh — ranked 28th in the league — was nonexistent. Bell, a second-round draft choice — received the majority of the carries in the offense. But, with a paltry 3.5 yards per carry, he didn’t do much for the Steelers. Bell ranked 12th in total carries, but 17th in total rushing yards.
Runner-up: The defense
Last season was the first time that Dick Lebeau’s Pittsburgh defense finished the season ranked outside the top-10, mainly due to the Steelers’ struggles against the run. Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State should help with bringing down opposing ball carriers this season. Already practicing with the first team in OTAs, Shazier figures to start from week 1 at linebacker and provide some much needed run support. He’s big and fast, and had a pretty darn good college career at Ohio State. In his last season as a Buckeye, Shazier racked up 100 solo tackles and six sacks.
Other notable pick: Stephon Tuitt
This Year’s Stud: Antonio Brown
He ain’t going away.
Runner-up: Maurkice Pouncey
This Year’s Surprise: The Defense
It wasn’t a normal season for the Pittsburgh defense last season, but I think the unit will rebound nicely. Shazier has the potential to be an impact player from day one. Likewise, second-round pick Stephon Tuitt should plug in on the defensive line immediately. Injury issues caused the former Notre Dame star to drop to the second-round, but Tuitt has a chance to play up to the caliber of a first-round pick.
Last season, the defense ranked 13th in total defense, 19th in points allowed and 28th in turnovers. Expect all those numbers to improve.
Runner-up: Dri Archer
This Year’s Disappointment: Martavis Bryant
The 6-foot-5 wide receiver out of Clemson is already off to a bad start, getting ripped by Tomlin at practice for not finishing a play. He’s regarded as raw and needing time to develop, and I think that’s exactly how this season will play out for Bryant. He’s got the size, but the route running needs to become more crisp. It’ll be a learning year for Bryant in the Steelers’ offense.
Runner-up: Le’Veon Bell
Draft early: Antonio Brown
Good value in the middle rounds: Ben Roethlisberger
Don’t draft: Le’Veon Bell
What Vegas is saying (LVH sports book): 8.5 wins
What We’re Saying: 8-8 (2nd place AFC North)
The Steelers finished the 2013 season with a positive point differential, but just barely. I can’t really see them reaching 10 wins and topping the Bengals in the division. Despite the defensive reinforcements they acquired via the draft, the secondary still needs some bolstering. Offensively, the team can’t afford to be as one-dimensional as it was in 2013. The Steelers should be in the mix for a Wild Card spot, but, ultimately, I think the Steelers finish the season at .500 and miss out on the postseason once again.