In The Bettors Corner: Pittsburgh Steelers

After starting the season 11-0, Pittsburgh needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to overcome a 17 point deficit to Indianapolis to avoid losing four straight games and clinch the AFC North division title on December 27th. In losing at Cleveland in week 17 and then getting blown out of Heinz Field in the wild card round by those same Cleveland Browns, the Steelers endured a late-season collapse that has become all too familiar to Steeler fans everywhere. The Steelers haven't won a playoff game since 2016. And in their last two playoff games at home, they have given up 45 points to the Jaguars and 48 points to the Browns. Ouch!! It's hard to say a coach who owns a 145-78-1 regular-season record and who has taken the Steelers to two Super Bowls, winning one of them, is on the hot seat. But that is exactly where Mike Tomlin finds himself. Tomlin has not won a playoff game in four years. It sure looked like the Ben Roethlisberger era was coming to an end as the final seconds ran off the clock in Pittsburgh in the wild card round loss to Cleveland. And it looked like the Steelers were headed for a rebuild. With a 39-year-old quarterback and six starters over the age of 30, two of them being in the final year of their contract ( Dave Decastro, Joe Haden), it was the safe bet that it was time to rebuild. But Pittsburgh decided to make one more run at the Lombardi trophy. Big Ben took a pay cut of five million dollars in what most certainly will be his final year in 2021. And the priority became fixing a running game that was dead last in rushing yards per game at 84.4. The Steelers only ran the ball 373 times, a little over 23 times a game. They haven't ranked that low in rushing yards since they were 31st in the league in 2003. The Steelers used the 24th pick in the draft to select Najee Harris, running back from Alabama, to help kick start the running game. Harris is a three-down back that Mike Tomlin loves to build an offense around. In the third round, the Steelers selected Kendrick Green, center from Illinois, to replace the retired Maurkice Pouncey. Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 608 times( 38 per game) and was only sacked 14 times. That was number one in the NFL. Big Ben simply can't throw the ball 35-40 times a game at this stage of his career. He needs to be a game manager like he was early in his career when he had the likes of Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker leading the rushing attack. And where he delivered the first of his two Lombardi trophies to Pittsburgh.

The staple of the Steelers for decades has been their defense. And that remains true about this team. The Steelers defense has led the league in sacks the last four years. Including 2020 when they had 56 sacks. They are led up front by pro-bowlers Tj Watt and Cameron Heyward. They also led the NFL in interceptions with 18. Led by Minkah Fitzpatrick (4). The defense ranked third overall, only giving up 305 yards a game. They return 8 starters to a unit that will most definitely be among the best in the NFL again in 2021.

In winning their division, Pittsburgh earned the toughest schedule in the NFL. Their opponents were 155-115-2 in 2020. They play 10 of their 17 games against playoff teams in 2020. After opening up in Buffalo, they play 4 of the next 5 at home before a week 7 bye. The extra game on the schedule is week six at home against Seattle on Sunday night football. The Steelers have two Monday night games. Both at home against Chicago and Cleveland. Five of their last six games are against playoff teams, including at Kansas City and Baltimore. Being in the same division with Cleveland and Baltimore and an improving Cincinnati team, the only slam dunk on the schedule seems to be Detroit at home on November 14th. I will admit I am a Mike Tomlin supporter, and many a Sunday afternoon, my hard-earned money is spent backing the Steelers. So when push comes to shove, I rather back Tomlin than go against him. The schedule is difficult, and getting the running game going will be a tall order, but Big Ben is a winner, and he won't go out on a bad team. The defense will carry this team most of the year; 10-7 will get it done.

Pittsburgh Steelers over 9

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