Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh Steelers won another AFC North Crown last year, but the veteran quarterback struggled down the backstretch of the season. Could this be Big Ben's final season in Steel Town?
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the best team in football through the first part of the season in 2020, winning their first 11 games before falling apart down the stretch. Questions remain about future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s declining ability on the field and as he enters his 18th NFL season, there’s a good chance it will be his final year. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff game since taking out Kansas City in the 2016 AFC divisional round and as the AFC North division becomes more competitive, it won’t get any easier to reach the postseason. Does Big Ben have enough left in him for one more kick at the can?
Notable Draft Picks
RB Najee Harris, TE Pat Freiermuth, C/G Kendrick Green, OT Dan Moore, LB Buddy Johnson
RB James Conner, TE Vance McDonald, OT Alejandro Vilanueva, G David DeCastro, G Matt Feiler, C Maurkice Pouncey, OLB Bud Dupree, LB Avery Williamson, LB Vince Williams, CB Steven Nelson, CB Mike Hilton, S Sean Davis
Pittsburgh Steelers Acquisitions and Moves
Pittsburgh “bolstered” their quarterback depth by signing 2019 15th overall draft pick Dwayne Haskins. Over two seasons with Washington, Haskins only played in 16 games and actually managed to throw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12). Couple that with his well-known violations of NFL COVID protocols and Haskins clearly fits at No. 3 on the depth chart behind Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph.
The new offensive player who looks like he’ll make the biggest impact right away is rookie running back Najee Harris. The 24th overall pick in the 2021 draft, Harris is a three-down back and should make an impact right away as a replacement for James Conner, who signed in Arizona.
The Steelers’ offensive line took a bit of a hit with the departure of three 2020 starters. Veteran centre Maurkice Pouncey retired, guard David DeCastro was released because of persistent injuries and offensive tackle Alejandro Vilanueva signed in Baltimore. Other notable losses are tight end Vance McDonald, who retired, and linebacker Bud Dupree, who signed in Tennessee.
Pittsburgh’s coaching staff got a vote of confidence in the offseason. Despite not winning a playoff game since 2016, longtime head coach Mike Tomlin was given a three-year contract extension that takes him through to the 2024 season. It’s a show of faith for the second-longest tenured coach in franchise history as he enters his 15th season in charge. The Steelers also promoted former quarterbacks coach Matt Canada (who is of course American) to offensive coordinator. Canada will be in charge of improving an offence that averaged league lows in rushing yards per game (84.4) and yards per carry (3.6) last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 NFL Schedule
The Steelers easily have the toughest schedule in the NFL this season. Their combined opponents’ record in 2020 was 155-115-2 (.574) and they have 10 games against playoff teams from last year. Of those 10 games, three will come on the road against teams that made last year’s AFC or NFC Championship game (Bills, Chiefs, Packers), including their season-opener in Buffalo.
The early Week 7 bye is not ideal, as I suspect Roethlisberger’s body will need rest in the latter part of the year. Pittsburgh will end the season with three tough, but crucial games. They’ll start in Kansas City, then, they’ll play divisional games, first at home versus Cleveland and then on the road in Baltimore. The Steelers’ playoff hopes could come down to those last three games.
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 12 @ Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 19 vs. Las Vegas Raiders, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 26 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3 @ Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10 vs. Denver Broncos, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 8:20 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31 @ Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 8 vs. Chicago Bears, 8:15 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14 vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21 @ Los Angeles Chargers, 8:20 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28 @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5 vs. Baltimore Ravens, 4:25 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 9 @ Minnesota Vikings, 8:20 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, December 19 vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26 @ Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Monday, Jan. 3 vs. Cleveland Browns, 8:15 p.m.
Week 18: Sunday, Jan. 9 @ Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Betting Odds
Pittsburgh comes in with the third-longest odds to win the AFC North at +371, but they’re still favoured heavily over Cincinnati. They sit in the back half of contenders to win the AFC outright (+1964) and they’re +3577 longshots to win the Super Bowl.
The Steelers’ season win total is set at 8.5, which seems fairly reasonable when you consider it is now a 17-game season. With Pittsburgh’s strength of schedule, it’s a bit of a risk to take the Over at +116, but the value is tempting. They sit at +169 to make the playoffs and they’re favoured at -208 to miss out.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Season Prediction
Pittsburgh went 12-4 last season, but it’s important to remember their 11-0 start to the year, so it was a tough end to the campaign. With the offensive line losses and Roethlisberger clearly on the decline, I see the 2021 version of this roster closer to last year’s 1-4 end rather than the 11-0 start. The AFC North is becoming an increasingly competitive division and with the Steelers’ difficult schedule, I see this as an 8-9 team.