Steelers Preview Capsule
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4)
Key losses: LB Ryan Shazier (injured), WR Martavis Bryant, S Mike Mitchell, S Robert Golden, CB William Gay, OL Chris Hubbard, offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Strengths: Offense returns seven Pro Bowlers, including QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. Brown is arguably best receiver in NFL and seemingly impervious to constant double coverage. Bell is most versatile back in league and is just as comfortable lining up in slot as next to Roethlisberger. Offensive line (LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro and RT Marcus Gilbert) that allowed just 24 sacks in 2017 remains intact for at least one more year, though Gilbert was slowed by knee injury during preseason. DT Cam Heyward is coming off career-high 12 1-2 sacks while spearheading defense that set franchise record and led NFL with 56 sacks year ago.
Weaknesses: Consistent production at outside linebacker is issue. Steelers flipped Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt in offseason, hoping Dupree will be more effective rushing from quarterback’s blind side. Dupree’s sacks total has inched up in each of his three years but he’s struggled to make weekly impact. Secondary underwent serious overhaul after giving up 45 points to Jacksonville in playoffs. Position coach Carnell Lake stepped down and veterans Mitchell, Golden and Gay walked. Burnett provides experience but Edmunds will be given plenty of opportunities to justify first-round selection. Depth behind Brown and second-year WR JuJu Smith-Schuster may be issue after Steelers traded away enigmatic Bryant. Washington put up record-setting numbers at Oklahoma State and will get every shot at becoming slot receiver. After those three, however, there’s not much.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Brown. Only player in NFL history to post five consecutive seasons with at least 100 receptions remains very much in his prime at age 30. He led NFL in receiving yards (1,533), yards per game (109.5) and yards per touch (14.2) last season while launching MVP candidacy thanks to series of clutch grabs that fueled Pittsburgh’s second straight AFC North title. Brown said repeatedly he’s not focused on his numbers but winning Super Bowl. Only way Steelers secure their seventh Lombardi Trophy, however, is with Brown being heavily involved.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 10-1. Over/under wins 10.5.
Expectations: Atlanta or bust. Steelers believed they were destined to take down New England last winter only to get tripped up by Jacksonville in divisional round. While Roethlisberger insists he’s in remarkably good shape, he turned 36 in March and this could represent his last best chance to win third Super Bowl. Bell is almost certainly gone via free agency next spring. His imminent departure should help provide sense of urgency to talented group that wants to make most of window of opportunity before it closes.