The Pittsburgh Steelers fought to an 8-8 record in 2019 and even stood at 8-5 before the Ben Roethlisberger-less ship sank.
With Ben returning, the over/under win-loss projection stands at 9.5. This a favorable number, considering the Steelers success in 2019 without Ben Roethlisberger. Hey, when Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges are your quarterbacks, 8-8 is a successful season.
Well, the offense was a bust, as the Steelers dropped to an embarrassing 30th ranking in total offense in 2019 while their top-five defense kept games close and even allowed the team to overachieve with the XFL-caliber Rudolph and Hodges.
Now, with Ben back in the saddle, it is realistic to bet the Steelers will eclipse their 9.5 over/under win projection. Heck, if Ben didn’t get hurt in 2019, this team was at least a wildcard contender. They’re beating Baltimore in their first meeting, and they beat San Francisco rather than suffering a narrow loss.
They’ll probably sweep Cleveland. It shows you that Ben plus the new “Steel Curtain” equals one of the NFL’s most dangerous teams. Here are five reasons for pro sports bettors to believe in the Steelers.
1 – The Return of Big Ben
Ben Roethlisberger returns to the Steelers in 2020 after missing 14 games with an elbow injury. Before the injury, Ben came off a season where he passed for over 5,000 yards. It was as if Pittsburgh’s aging future Hall of Famer continued to improve his game.
While the Steelers faltered down the stretch in 2018, Ben’s play continued to impress.
In 2019, while Rudolph and Hodges led the Steelers to a combined 8-6 record, the defense often kept opposing offenses from scoring.
It allowed Pittsburgh’s 30th-ranked offense to come up with just enough points to eke out close wins. This happened in six of the team’s eight wins, where the Steelers won by a touchdown or less. Even in games they lost, five of their eight losses also came from a touchdown or less.
In those 11 games, they finished 6-5. Ben wins all but two of those games, as his history shows, and gets the Steelers into the playoffs.
Now that Ben is back in the equation for 2020, look for the Steelers to dominate once again on offense. If the defense continues its domineering effort from 2019, they will do more than overcome the 9.5-win threshold oddsmakers set for them.
They win some of those close games they lost. Perhaps even all of them, given Ben’s heroics in the fourth quarter.
At worst, the team finishes 10-6 in 2019 with Ben. With a manageable schedule in 2020, their floor appears 11-5 or higher. Assuming Ben is back to full strength and remains so. He says he is, so we will take his word for it.
2 – The Return of the Steel Curtain
The 2019 Steelers defense resembled that seen in the 1970s and even the early to mid-2000s. The result of that was seven Super Bowl appearances (they made one other appearance, a 1995 loss to the Cowboys) and six wins.
The 2020 version may not be of championship-caliber considering the team hasn’t won a playoff game since the divisional playoffs following the 2016 season. But given that they’re a top-five, sack-happy defense loaded with stars, championship-caliber isn’t too farfetched either.
Minkah Fitzpatrick looks like Mel Blount. You got a Jack Lambert in Devin Bush, a Joe Greene in T.J. Watt, etc. The comparisons don’t end. The issue in 2019 stems back to the lethargic losers, Rudolph and Hodges.
As for the defense, they ranked first in the NFL in sacks with 54. They held a +8 turnover differential, which tied for seventh in the league. They allowed 18.9 points per game, which tied for fifth in the league, and they finished second in the NFL with 20 interceptions.
If the defense had one flaw, it resided in the 14th-ranked rush defense, where they allowed 109.6 rushing yards per game. Run-heavy teams may torch the Steelers. But then again, we ought to look for linebacker Devin Bush to make a leap forward to change that.
With another year of experience under their belts, look for the Steelers’ defense to soar to even greater heights in 2020. Defense wins games, and defense wins championships. No one knows this better than the Steelers. Insert Ben back into the equation and watch the team return to the class of the league.
3 – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
The Steelers have owned their Ohio-based division rivals so much that even on the rare occasion where they lose to say, the Cleveland Browns, the Browns still “lose,” as in November 2019, courtesy of Myles Garrett’s infamous move.
But all jokes aside, the Browns have looked like an often-bullied little brother next to the Steelers since 1999 and the Bengals, not too far behind. Given the Steelers, and to be more specific Ben Roethlisberger’s, dominance over the Ohio teams, it often equates to four guaranteed wins per season.
And don’t expect it to change in 2020. While the Browns technically beat the Steelers in November, the Devlin Hodges-led Steelers still earned a victory against the heavily favored Browns during Round 2 at Heinz Field.
And don’t expect it to change in 2020 for the Bengals, as the team is rebuilding with the new quarterback, Joe Burrow. While the Bengals have one of the best backs in football and an under-the-radar receiving unit, the Steelers defense will be too much for the Bengals to handle.
While the Steelers struggled against their biggest rival—the Baltimore Ravens—since 2018, the old saying still goes, “A great defense beats a great offense.” The Steelers have a great defense. The Ravens have a great offense.
In comparison to Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, Ben Roethlisberger is the difference-maker. With that said, look for the Steelers and Ravens to engage in their usual heavyweight fights as they battle for AFC North supremacy. The Steelers may finish 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2 against their heated rival.
One thing is almost inevitable, however, is they will beat the Browns and Bengals twice apiece.
The Browns have a new coaching staff and a new system in place, while the Bengals underwent a roster makeover. Each must scramble to get their new systems or players up to par without the luxury of a full preseason.
4 – Traveling Fan Base
This one may or may not play into the 2020 season. Some teams like the New York Giants, New York Jets, and Las Vegas Raiders announced fans won’t attend their games this season.
But assuming fans will at least somewhat fill stadiums, even if it is half or quarter capacity, the Steelers have one of the more well-traveled fan bases in the NFL, given their old age as a franchise and past dynasty teams.
The Steelers are the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, and Montreal Canadiens of the NFL. They win consistently. Their lean seasons are few and far between. And like the teams mentioned above, they have existed for decades.
For the Steelers, this means their fans show up for all 16 games, even when their team plays on the West Coast. Road games aren’t just road games for one of the most storied fan bases in all of sports.
Some might point out that the Steelers never play a true road game, considering the sea of black and gold you see in the eight games played outside of Heinz Field.
A Steelers road game doesn’t bode home-field advantage for the other team. If you are betting on the NFL this season, and considering if the Steelers will trump their 9.5-win threshold, you don’t have to worry about who they are playing on the road.
While the Steelers haven’t made the playoffs for two straight seasons, they still finished at and above the .500 mark in 2018 and 2019, the latter season with fringe quarterbacks. That says a lot about the culture in Pittsburgh and where Steeler fans are found.
Again, this factor is subject to change. But considering the NFL’s mandates regarding fans, this factor may still play into their hands.
5 – Coaching (and System) Longevity
Since 1969, three men have stalked the Steelers sideline with the title of head coach. Chuck Noll from 1969 to 1991. Bill Cowher from 1992 to 2006. And Mike Tomlin from 2007 until the present day.
While Tomlin’s biggest claim to fame was winning a Super Bowl with Bill Cowher’s team, don’t be a sucker to the criticism he has taken in recent seasons. In his 13 seasons as head coach, he never finished under .500.
Of your longest-tenured coaches in the NFL, neither Andy Reid (1999 to present), Bill Belichick (2000 to present), Sean Payton (2006 to present), or John Harbaugh (2008 to present) can say the same. And those are some big names mentioned.
Another common denominator is that all four of the coaches listed above made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. All have won Super Bowls, with Bill Belichick and Andy Reid winning the last two.
If you like the Steelers in 2020, this is a good omen. Given the fact two of the AFC North’s teams either have a new coach or a revamped roster with live games beginning in Week 1 with the absence of preseason.
And while Tomlin is the only coach listed above that didn’t make a playoff appearance since 2017, he still performed well from a coaching standpoint with his own teams. He made a Super Bowl appearance in 2010, won several division titles, and played in a few AFC Championship Games.
In the NFL, you either win or you’re out the door. Tomlin has won even in seasons where his teams missed the playoffs. That says a lot about the system he has in Pittsburgh and how he handled last season given the loss of his quarterback.
Coaching longevity is relevant in the NFL, given the success of teams who possess the longest-tenured coaches. In 2020, it’s even more relevant. Knowing their system, the Steelers are one of those teams who can go out there in Week 1 already meshed.
Other teams, including their division rivals the Browns and Bengals, aren’t so lucky.
The Steelers are a team that reloads rather than rebuilds. Or rather, when one side of the ball rebuilds, the other side picks up the slack. Over the latter part of the 2000s, the team gained an offensive identity.
In 2019, when the offense sputtered, the Steel Curtain returned, likely for a long time, given the fact many are still in their 20s. The Steelers are in prime position to overcome their 9.5-win threshold if Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy. He will take the Steelers farther than Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges took them. And with a top defense, it makes the team even more dangerous.
So, what are your thoughts? Are the Steelers poised to throttle their 9.5 over/under projection, or is Father Time catching up to Ben?