Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the worst professional team in Pittsburgh. Wait, what? Trust me, as weird as it is for you to read that, it felt just as weird typing it. I know it won’t sit well and it’s a cardinal rule in the Steel City to write anything bad about the Steelers, but there’s no denying the truth. In the past year, the Steelers have been the worst professional team.
Now, let me save you the trouble. When I say professional team, I’m not talking about the Pittsburgh Power, Pittsburgh Passion, Pittsburgh Riverhounds or any other teams of that nature. While I have tremendous respect for all of those franchises, I’m just discussing the three major teams in the area.
Right now, the city has Pirates fever. Some may call it bandwagon fans and some may say they finally feel comfortable coming out and supporting their team. With 100,000 fans in the first three days of weekday series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the numbers don’t lie. The Pirates are 65-42 and enter August at 23-games over .500 for the first time since 1972.
Then you look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Pens fans are similar to Steelers fans in the way they handle their losses, it’s no secret it’s a passionate fanbase. The consecutive sellout streak at Consol Energy Center speaks to that. The Penguins enjoyed yet another great season, finishing as the No. 1 seed out of the Eastern Conference. The Penguins made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before being swept by the Boston Bruins.
Yes, the outcry was bad. Yes, most of it was uncalled for. I mean would the team really be better without Dan Bylsma and Kris Letang? It wasn’t the ending anyone wanted, but the fact remains the Penguins had one hell of a season.
Then there’s the Steeler. Ah yes, the Steelers. The six-time (do I really need to remind anyone that?) Super Bowl champions and the team that every other franchise wants to emulate. I give them all of their due and respect they deserve. But last year, they had an off-year. The team finished 8-8 and like any other team, they were within a few yards and a few points of having that record change by a few games either way.
The Steelers missed the playoffs, while the hated Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl. For a lot of franchises, 8-8 isn’t bad. For a team and a city that is used to winning football and playing the game to win it each week, it was considered unacceptable. Again, there were the pundits that thought Mike Tomlin needed to be fired and embarrassingly enough, the call for Ben Roethlisberger’s job.
So you have the best team in baseball, a team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals and a team that finished at a mediocre 8-8. Is it really an insult to say that they are the worst team right now? To me, it isn’t. The thing is, if we revisit this topic this time next year, I have a feeling the same result will show.
I mean think about it. The Pirates have its core group in place. They have Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte locked up for the foreseeable future. The option on Francisco Liriano will be picked up next year, and he’ll be re-joined by Russell Martin, Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jeff Locke the rest of the bullpen and the majority of the other key contributors. Let us not forget about Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon (The No. 2 and No. 1 prospects in the system) who are scheduled to make their Major League debuts next year barring any unforeseen situation.
Then you have the Penguins. They have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz all locked up. Add the veteran presence that Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jussi Jokinen all bring, along with the young talent in Beau Bennett and Simon Despres, you’ll see this team is looking just fine for the future as well.
When listening to the talented Chris Mueller earlier this week, he said that the best case realistic scenario for the Steelers is finishing 9-7 this year. I tend to agree with him, but I’d lean more towards another 8-8 season.
Looking at the roster, what major upgrades have they made? They have questions all over the place, which makes this training camp interesting. Can Antonio Brown be a true No. 1 receiver with Mike Wallace gone? Will Emmanuel Sanders live up to his potential and put a good, solid season together? How will Heath Miller perform coming off of major surgery? Will any of the trio of Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer or Isaac Redman be able to step out as a true No. 1 back?
On the defensive side, fans are counting on Jarvis Jones to step in and start. Spoiler alert: he won’t be starting. With James Harrison gone, can Jason Worilds or Chris Carter fill his void? How much does Troy Polamalu have left in the tank? We know Brett Keisel will start, but who will start opposite of him? If it’s Ziggy Hood, will he be able to live up to his first round selection?
The questions are literally endless. The Steelers age and contracts are finally catching up to them. With Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert in tow, they’ll get the Steelers back to their winning ways in due time. For right now though, they are holding down the spot previously held by the Pirates for the past 20 years.
Pittsburgh may be and will probably always be a football town, but right now, the Pirates own it.