The Pittsburgh Steelers head into the 2016 season as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 51. Even though the team has significant questions defensively and will be forced to adapt to life without Heath Miller (retirement) and Martavis Bryant (suspension) on offense, it’s the Steelers who seem to be the sexy pick for those willing to go out on a limb and not pick the New England Patriots.
It’s fair to be a little skeptical of the national pundits who have made the Steelers an AFC favorite after a nightmarish preseason rife with injuries and a growing list of question marks.
However, one factor should keep the team in the mix all season, and that’s having Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Having a franchise quarterback the caliber of Roethlisberger is luxury few teams have, and when you look at the teams that win championships, it’s a difference maker that simply can’t be denied.
That’s why I’ve decided to focus on the position of quarterback in a different type of season preview. We know that if healthy (knocks on wood), the Steelers will have an advantage at the league’s most important position – but what will that mean in the end?
Let’s take a look and make a season prediction using quarterback match ups as the deciding factor.
After evaluating the schedule, I’ve broken down the Steelers opponents quarterbacks into three different categories; elite, middle of the road and back of the pack – using this as a unique barometer to determine the Steelers final record.
Elite (5 games): Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton (2)
Sure, we can get into debates about who is elite and not, but my four are Brady, Luck, Manning and Dalton. The good news is three of the five games are at home including facing nemesis Brady.
9/18 – The Steelers host the Bengals in a highly anticipated early season grudge match between two division rivals expected to vie for conference supremacy. Give the Steelers the edge in this one.
10/23 – Another year, another regular season matchup between two of the titans of the AFC. When the Patriots head to Heinz Field in late October, it will be Brady’s second game back from his “deflategate” suspension, and you’d have to expect him to be ready for this one. Maybe the defense can finally come through against Brady, but I have my doubts.
11/24 – Traveling to Indianapolis on a short week to play on Thanksgiving night; what could possibly go wrong? Couple those factors with Colts QB Andrew Luck, who I believe will be lights out this season and I see a loss here.
12/4 – After the Thanksgiving trip to Indy the Steelers get 10 full days until they host Eli Manning and the Giants. Manning and Roethlisberger come from the celebrated 2004 draft class and both have Hall of Fame credentials. I do like the Steelers at home.
12/18 – Week 15 pits the Steelers and Bengals once again in a game that could determine who wins the AFC North. The Steelers will be entering a hornets nest in Cincinnati, so getting a win here will be extremely tough.
Middle of the pack (6 games): Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco (twice), Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick
9/12 – The Steelers will open their season on Monday Night Football against Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins in a game that will be a litmus test for a pass defense that has a lot of question marks. Cousins is the consummate mercurial QB, looking like an All-Pro for stretches while being an inconsistent turnover machine others. This game worries me, a lot. Cousins could very well go off on a defense still finding it’s way.
10/2 – In their first of two Sunday night games, the Steelers host Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith has long held the label of “game manager” but he’s a winner and sneaky effective. I do expect the team to get revenge after a tough road loss to the Chiefs last year.
10/9 – The following week will be another home game against an underrated game manager when the team hosts Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets. The Jets are a dangerous team with a bevy of weapons on offense, but I like the Steelers here.
10/16 – A road trip to Miami is never easy, and who knows how the weather could impact things. The Dolphins have been as maddening as their quarterback Ryan Tannehill in recent seasons, but this game could be a challenge, especially with the Steelers potentially looking ahead to the Patriots the next week.
11/6 and 12/25 – The Steelers will travel to Baltimore coming off of their Week 8 bye to face hated rival Baltimore Ravens. Ravens QB Joe Flacco seems to have big games against the Steelers, but this might be another down year in Baltimore. Coming off the bye is huge here.
The second matchup on Christmas night should be a win for the Steelers.
Back of the pack (5): Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Robert Griffin III (twice), Tyrod Taylor
9/25 – Traveling to Philadelphia to play the Eagles is never easy. Although the Eagles, led by rookie Carson Wentz, are expected to be among the league’s worst teams, coming off an emotional game against the Bengals might make this game tougher than it looks on paper. Steelers sneak out with a win.
11/13 – When the Steelers host the Dallas Cowboys in mid-November, it’s unclear if injured Tony Romo will be back or if rookie Dak Prescott will be under center. Prescott has been impressive early, but it’s hard not to give the Steelers an edge here.
11/20 and 1/1-News flash – The Cleveland Browns stink. Robert Griffin III is not the answer and look for the Steelers to win in Cleveland in late November and again on New Year’s Day at home in the team’s regular season finale.
12/11 – The Buffalo Bills decided to give Tyrod Taylor a contract extension in the off-season and though his long-term fate is about as clear as head coach Rex Ryan, he’s a dangerous dual-threat QB that could prove to be a test for the Steelers. I’d still give the black and gold the edge.
In review, the Steelers will end the regular season with an 11-5 record, which will be good enough to win the AFC North and put them in position to secure the second seed in the AFC playoffs.
Photo credit: Sporting News