I’ve been doing these for 20 years now. When I started it was originally on a lark just to taunt the long-departed Weirddave, who at the time was our biggest Ratbird fan. My son was but an infant, and Ben Roethlisberger had yet to be drafted.
Well, now my son is in college and for the first time in 18 years my beloved Steelers are in the wilderness at quarterback. I have absolutely no idea how this is going to turn out. They signed Mitchell Trubisky, who admittedly didn’t set the world on fire in Chicago and could arguably be seen as a bust. I choose to see him as someone who could be good but never had a chance. His stats in Chicago were better than Peyton Manning’s that early in his career even with a so-called QB whisperer coach who couldn’t coach up a Pop Warner kid, and they remain better than those of the highest-paid player ever, DeShaun Watson (more on him later). His preseason was pretty good and, truthfully, Ben was a noodle-armed statue in his last two years so he constitutes a huge upgrade.
But don’t expect him to last long, because Pittsburgh drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round. If you spend that kind of draft capital you’re expecting him to be the future. That future is not now, but it is soon. Like Trubisky, he looked good in the preseason, but the preseason is of course not the same as games that matter. In the third slot is Mason Rudolph, who I expected to be traded (and he may yet be), who has real game experience and is easily the best third quarterback in the league. So it’s all there, but will it work?
It all depends on the offensive line, which isn’t great. If they can’t run with Najee Harris and have to throw 60 times they’ll be just as predictable as the last few years. Even if Diontae Johnson catches everything, George Pickens is everything they hoped for, and Chase Claypool stops being a moron, I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I’m hopeful, but this is virtually uncharted territory for Pittsburgh. I remain cautiously optimistic.
As for the defense, they lost Tuitt to retirement and Haden to contract/age. Tuitt is a loss, but he hasn’t played in over a year so that’s based on prior performance. Haden is also a loss, but he was getting old and wasn’t the same player. But they have Son of Ironhead and DPOY TJ Watt and added Myles Jack, so the defense is still formidable.
The problem is that every other team got better at the same time, at least in theory. The Rats are mostly healthy and their running game is outrageous. Lamar not having a new contract might be a distraction, and outside of Mark Andrews he has nobody to throw to, but they are still a fearsome opponent.
The Bengals are coming off a highly competitive turn in the Super Bowl and made improvements in the their only glaring weakness, the offensive line. Joe Burrow remains fantastic and his receiving corps is among the best. But they also have to play a first-place schedule and everyone in-division is better so it won’t be easy for them to repeat.
The Browns… has any team pissed away so much goodwill so quickly? They went from plucky underdogs to playoff contenders to the sleaziest organization in football in 3 years. After listening to 15 years of HURR RAPELISBERGER HURR from their fans they signed DeShaun Watson so now it’s my turn. You’d better be ready for it, Cleveland fans, because revenge is a dish best served cold. As for the rest of the team, they could still be good if Brissett can remember to hand the ball off the Chubb 30 times a game. Otherwise, it’s back to the basement for the foreseeable future.
So that’s the division. The rest of the AFC is utterly stacked. We all saw what the Bills did to the Rams in the season opener. They have to be the favorites to come out of the AFC. The Chiefs are notably weaker without Tyreek Hill and some interior linemen, but still potent. The Broncos got the QB they needed with Wilson. It’s just outrageous how much better the AFC looks on paper.
The NFC is almost an afterthought. Whoever gets out of the NFC, and if there is a God it won’t be the fucking Bucs, will get crushed by the AFC representative. Take Green Bay even though Rodgers the loony has nobody to throw to. Maybe the Niners, though trusting Lance is stupid since not even his team trusts him fully.
So, getting back to the Steelers. The schedule is difficult and there are tons of unknowns, but sleep on them at your peril. Tomlin is a hell of a coach and while he arguably underachieves he also gets the most out of the role and spot players he has. He still hasn’t had a losing record in a season, and that won’t start this year, either. In fact, while I give Pittsburgh an outside shot at the division, I think they’ll make the playoffs solidly. After that, who knows?
Enjoy the season, everyone.