You smell that? Take a sniff, that’s the aroma of fresh cut grass and fresh paint on football field across America. Now that the preseason is over, a new NFL season is finally here.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the odds on favorite, 10-1 according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, to be the last team standing when the confetti falls in Houston at Super Bowl 51 this coming February.
I have high expectations for this edition of the Steelers, even with the year long suspension of Martavis Bryant, and the three game suspension for Le’Veon Bell. In preseason game number three, with Ben Roethlisberger (12/17, 148 yds, 2 TDs), Le’Veon Bell (3 car. 21 yds; 5 rec. 37 yds.), Antonio Brown (4 rec., 87yds,1TD) playing in their first–and probably–only two drives of the preseason, the offense finally showed some of the flashes that have led to my lofty expectations. So with that being said, here are my predictions for the Black & Gold in 2016.
The Steelers will lead the NFL in points per game and total yards per game, even without Bell for the first three of them. Pittsburgh averaged a NFL 3rd best 395.4 yards per game and 4th best 26.4 points per game in 2015, all with Roethlisberger missing 4 games to injury and Bell missing 12 games (including playoffs) to suspension and injury.
You’d rather Bell not be suspended coming off such a gruesome knee injury, but if it had to happen, missing him early will be better than down the stretch for a playoff run as we all saw last season. His backup, 33 year-old D’Angelo Williams, should be fresh early in the season, and like last year he will be more than capable to adequately and efficiently fill in before the pounding starts to take its toll.
Roethlisberger will contend once again contend for the league lead in passing yards per game (328 ypg in 2015) and total passing yards (3,938 in 2015). Assuming he’s healthy, #7 will have the most lethal collection of weapons at his disposal.
Brown will lead the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. But, my bold prediction is, he gains 2,000 yards. Without Martavis Bryant you would think defenses will gear up to stop him using double teams and bracketed coverages, but they’ll quickly learn that the Steelers have some breakout stars like Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coats ready to make them pay if they do. Those guys emergence will force secondaries to play more honest, allowing AB to get his. Brown has gone from 1,499 yards (2013) to 1,698 yards (2014) to 1,834 yards (2015) in his last three seasons. You see a pattern? My prediction for 2k might not be so bold.
Keith Butler’s defense was much scrutinized, specifically the secondary, in his first year after taking over for the legend Dick LeBeau. The D yielded the 30th worse pass defense giving up 271.9 yards per game, and a total 52 pass plays of over 20+ yards.
But, overall last season wasn’t all terrible for the D. While they ranked 21st overall in yards per game (363.1), they were 11th in total points given up (319) and points allowed per game (19.9), 3rd in sacks (48), and tied for 6th in interceptions (17).
This young unit was the surprise of training camp and shows a collective overall team speed from sideline to sideline that hasn’t been seen in the 412 since the early days of the mid 2000’s with the likes of James Harrison, Troy Polumalu, Ike Taylor, Lamarr Woodley and Aaron Smith. The Steelers D will get back to Pittsburgh tradition and rank in the top 5 overall and 10 in pass defense. This group will create turnovers and get the ball back often for the lethal offense to put up their goal of 30 points per game.
I may sound like a homer, but I predict the Steelers will win the AFC North in a down to the wire battle with the Cincinnati Bengals. I see 12-4 in their future which should be good enough to earn home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, especially considering the New England Patriots could very well struggle out the gate with Tom Brady serving his four game suspension due to “Deflategate,” and won’t be able to catch Pittsburgh.
Finally, I got the Steelers winning the AFC Championship over the Patriots, going to Super Bowl 51 and winning their record seventh Lombardi Trophy, with #7 bringing home his first Super Bowl MVP. Pittsburgh once again over the Arizona Cardinals and former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in Houston.