After missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers have hit the reset button. Gone are Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, a pair of All-Pros considered the best players in the NFL at their position at one point. Now there's no doubt that this is Ben Roethlisberger's team, but the 37-year-old quarterback can't do it by himself.
Fortunately for Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin, the emergence of a pair of Pro Bowlers in JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner helps offset the departures of Brown and Bell, especially if it results in better team chemistry. But that doesn't mean one of the other receivers needs to step up to serve as a complementary option and the offensive line is moving on without longtime starting tackle Marcus Gilbert.
On the other side of the ball, a top-10 defense has added some new faces, the most notable being first-round pick Devin Bush. The former Michigan All-American is tasked with filling the big shoes of Ryan Shazier, who has been missed since he suffered his serious spinal injury late in the 2017 season.
For all the drama that took place on and off of the field last season, the Steelers went 9-6-1, with that tie basically being the difference between winning the AFC North and missing the postseason altogether. Tomlin has yet to post a losing record in his 12 seasons in the Steel City and Pittsburgh will have plenty of chances to reassert itself as one of the top teams in the AFC.
The Steelers' schedule has them playing four of the six teams from the AFC that made the playoffs last season, including the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and crossover pairings with the NFC West mean the runner-up Rams will pay a visit in early November. And don't forget about their divisional games against the archrival Ravens and surging Browns.
So will some offseason roster purging result in Pittsburgh getting back to being a contender? Athlon Sports asked several experts to share their realistic win/loss projection for the Steelers in 2019.
Pittsburgh Steelers Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
One really gets the sense that the Steelers, free from the drama of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, are really going to double down on the action between the lines this season and get back to the rarified AFC air we're used to seeing them in. You just know that Big Ben, JuJu Smith-Schuster and the host of other veterans are itching at the chance to prove people wrong and it would not surprise me one bit if the team is relishing all the attention being paid on division rival Cleveland. The schedule is tough enough where the path to a division title is pretty tough but it wouldn't shock me one bit to see some yellow towels waiving from visiting fans at the AFC title game come January with this motivated and talented group.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After a drama-filled end to the 2018 season, it was a relatively quiet offseason in Pittsburgh. And while it’s no secret the Steelers will miss the on-field talent and production of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, this team filled its needs and seems to be a more cohesive group going into 2019. The emergence of James Conner solidified the ground game last fall, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be counting on Donte Moncrief, James Washington and Vance McDonald to help pick up the production left behind by Brown. The offseason’s biggest addition came via the draft in linebacker Devin Bush. The Steelers struggled to replace Ryan Shazier in 2018, but Bush should be the answer, giving the defense some much-needed speed over the middle of the field. Cleveland is on the rise and capable of winning the AFC North. However, the guess here is coach Mike Tomlin’s team rides an improved defense and an offense with still plenty of firepower to another division title.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
Call it Bell/Brown fatigue or too much faith in Tomlin and Big Ben, but I'm in the camp that the Steelers will bounce back after last season's drama-filled campaign. But one thing is clear — there are no more excuses for the latter pair. Even without the two All-Pro weapons, Pittsburgh should have more than enough offensive firepower to match up with pretty much any team it faces. I also am excited to see how the new faces on defense mix in with the holdovers. The schedule isn't easy and everyone is hyping the Browns, but I'll take the team (and specifically the head coach/QB combo) that has been there before over the one that's still learning how to win in the NFL.