Despite an impressive offseason coming off a 9-8 campaign, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still playing in a loaded AFC North division. After finishing third in the division last season, Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame doesn’t think the team will fare better this year, ranking the Steelers roster the worst in the AFC North.
“There’s a case for the Steelers to be higher on this list. Pittsburgh had one of the league’s stronger offseasons, adding corner Patrick Peterson, linebackers Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, guard Isaac Seumalo and receiver Allen Robinson II via free agency or trade. In the draft, the Steelers nabbed the aforementioned [Broderick] Jones along with cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and tight end Darnell Washington, three players many felt were worthy of first-round selections. However, there are still questions about this group. For starters, Kenny Pickett. As a rookie, Pickett showed flashes but not much more.”
Quarterback is the most important position in football, so in these types of exercises, the Steelers are always going to get dinged for not having an established quarterback. Despite the team retooling the offense line, one of its biggest weaknesses, and completely rebuilding their inside linebacker core, the Steelers won’t get credit roster-wise compared to the rest of the division due to their quarterback.
For as well as the Steelers do against Lamar Jackson, he’s still a very good quarterback, and Joe Burrow is among the league elites. But in a list like this, where I see the Browns ranked ahead of the Steelers despite more overall holes, I ask myself, why are we expecting Deshaun Watson to be good again? He took a full year off from football, faced 24 civil lawsuits, and has a torn ACL in his past. Forget the legality of whether he’s guilty or not, but there’s a physical and emotional toll on him that makes me question why everyone just assumes he’s going to bounce back next season after poor play for most of 2022 when he returned from his suspension. I’m just not sure he’s going to be the quarterback he was early in his career ever again.
Regardless of their quarterback play, the Steelers still do face a tough battle in their division. But given their schedule, the way the defense is built, and the expectation that the offense is going to play similar to the way it did when Pittsburgh went 6-2 down the stretch last year, I have a hard time believing the Steelers would finish fourth in the division.
I don’t believe their roster talent is worse than the Browns, either, so I don’t really disagree with them being ranked fourth, anyway. But it just makes the point that no games are given in the AFC North. But regardless of their quarterback play and the fact that the division is tough, I can’t see the Steelers finishing last. Given their schedule, the way the defense is built, and the expectation that the offense is going to play similar to the way it did when Pittsburgh went 6-2 down the stretch last year, I have a hard time believing the Steelers would finish fourth in the division.