Between free agency, a lengthy draft process and non-guaranteed contracts, championship windows can be fleeting in the NFL. It can be here one season and then gone the next -- the victim of aging players, huge contract demands or simply bad luck and injuries. If there’s one franchise that might on the brink of just such a door starting to close, it’s easy to pick out the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team that checks off most of the boxes. Even taking the field this year against that backdrop though, Mike Tomlin’s team remains loaded and ready to make another run in what amounts to a wide-open AFC.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger keeps hinting at a retirement soon but continues to lead a monster offense that was third in the league last season. His fellow Killer B's (running back Le’Veon Bell and wideout Antonio Brown) are among the best in the NFL at their respective positions and Bell in particular enters 2018 extra motivated to get a big long-term contract next offseason. The Steelers added speedy rookie James Washington to play alongside budding receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the defensive back end has been rebuilt after a humbling loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs.
At this point though, a division title and trip to the playoffs is not only the expectation in Pittsburgh but a near given. With their core group of players heading toward a future breakup and a fairly clear path to reach the Super Bowl, everybody in the Steel City is aiming to add one more Lombardi Trophy before it’s time to turn the roster over.
Can the Steelers make just such a run? We polled experts at Athlon Sports to see just how well the team will fair in 2018 and what the future holds for one of the most consistent franchises in the league.
Pittsburgh Steelers Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
The Killer B’s — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown — have been the most consistently lethal triplets in the league for five seasons now, and that electric trio gives the Steelers built-in contender cachet. But storm clouds are gathering over the Steel City, as Steeler Nation has grown weary of Bell’s never-ending contract drama, training camp absences and off-field escapades. With Bell’s impending free agency and Roethlisberger’s advancing age, this season is taking on the feel of a last hurrah, so the Steelers had better make the most of it. It’s a virtual given that Pittsburgh will make the playoffs; the rest of the AFC North has done little to close a gap that has only widened in the last couple seasons. But Mike Tomlin would be well advised to do some damage in the postseason to ensure that his regime survives the impending transition.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Despite a stellar record, it feels at times like this team never recovered from two things last season: that loss to the Patriots on a questionable call at the doorstep and the loss of defensive leader Ryan Shazier. Those two storylines also covered up the fact that the Steelers won their share of closer than expected games and all seemed to coalesce in that disastrous playoff game against the Jaguars. Even though the Le’Veon Bell situation has the potential to upset the balance of the locker room, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Steelers come out extra focused for 2018 and put together a much more consistent effort on the field week-to-week. The offense will be loaded once again and the re-tooled defense still looks above average in the AFC. In short, it’s probably now or never for another ring for this core group.
John Gworek (@JohnGworek)
Much like the Patriots, if the Steelers stay relatively healthy, they should again show up in the AFC playoffs. Le’Veon Bell has shown he can hold out for all of preseason and still perform like the league’s best all-around weapon, so there little reason to worry there or anywhere on offense really. Replacing Ryan Shazier on defense is a concern, especially after the Steelers gave up 45 points to Blake Bortles and the Jaguarss in the playoffs. Then again, 14 of those points came directly off Pittsburgh turnovers, and the offense torched the Jags' vaunted D for 545 yards in the game. This may be the last year the Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are together, but they may go out on top.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
Unless Le'Veon Bell makes his contract situation personal and misses games that count, Pittsburgh will be in the Super Bowl mix once again. In fact, Bell's contract impasse could produce a more spirited effort as this could be the final opportunity for Ben Roethlisberger and some other veterans to get another ring. I have concerns about how the defense will fare without Ryan Shazier for the entire season, but that side of the ball still has plenty of pieces to work with. The Steelers will endure their typical hiccups along the way, especially on the road, but it will all come down to how (and possibly where) they play in January.