Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the season, each week we’ll take a look at one division and examine the situation, any surprises and look forward to the playoffs.
Pre-Season Predicition: Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mid-Season Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite a strong defensive showing and a 2-0 start for the Ravens, this division wasn’t really ever in doubt. The Browns are exactly who we thought they were, and the Bengals, thus far, have managed to be even more inept than expected. While the Browns stand to improve some on offense with the return of troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon, who has been cleared by the league to return following a drug suspension, they don’t really have anyone to throw the ball to him. Coach Hue Jackson has little to work with on either side of the ball, and an 0-16 season might very well be in the cards.
The Steelers, however, look to be among the AFC’s very best teams, despite a crushing five interception performance against Jacksonville that had people wondering if QB Ben Rothlisberger would last the season. Since then, the Steelers have been firing on all cylinders, winning three straight, including a win against previously undefeated Kansas City.
Pittsburgh has been steadily handing the ball to Le’Veon Bell for around thirty carries per game, with the notable exception of the loss to Jacksonville, where he only ran the ball fifteen times for forty-seven yards. For Pittsburgh to be successful the rest of the way, they’ll need him to provide balance in the offense and keep their defense fresh by keeping the chains moving and the clocks running. Big Ben isn’t as mobile as he once was, so the added time created with play action and the threat of the run will help keep him upright and give Antonio Brown time to run free.
Defensively, the Steelers are quietly one of the top units in the NFL. Jacksonville is getting all the headlines, but Pittsburgh is a top five unit in yards allowed and they trail only those Jaguars in points allowed. The secondary has done an admirable job thus far in preventing big games, but they’ve only faced two QB’s in the top ten, and they allowed 423 yards to Matthew Stafford in a win against the Lions in week eight. Whether they can stifle Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Carson Wentz remains to be seen.
Barring any injury setbacks, the Steelers look to be on their way to another divisional title. They’re tied with the Patriots for the best record in the AFC, so a first-round bye is also on the table if they don’t slip up against an inferior team. Aside from a week fifteen tilt against the Patriots that will very likely decide who gets home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Steelers have very little in the way of tough matchups the rest of the way. With the Packers no longer a factor and Houston losing their rookie QB, the Steelers just won’t see too many challenges the rest of the way.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.