The Pittsburgh Steelers saw legend DB Troy Polamalu retire in April while Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau also left the club, so, can Pittsburgh ever return to the Steel Curtain days when its’ Defense dominated opponents?
With guys like Polamalu, LeBeau, LB Jason Worilds and CB Ike Taylor all gone now, it will probably take some time for the Pittsburgh defense to dominate opponents again, so for now, the Steelers seem intent on trying to win games on the Offensive side of the ball through QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. Let’s look at their Offseason moves, potential losses, some Trends and all other things Steelers as well as making a couple Futures Book and a Week 1 pick in their game against the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Can Defense Return Despite Polamalu, LeBeau Departures?
The Pittsburgh Steelers (28/1 to win Super Bowl, Sky Bet) somehow won the extremely competitive AFC North last season, finishing with an 11-5 SU mark in the Regular Season (9-8 ATS overall), just edging out the Baltimore Ravens (10-5-1) by a ½ game and also topping the upstart Cincinnati Bengals (10-6). And the three big reasons Pittsburgh probably won the division? The incredible season of All Pro WR Antonio Brown (129 receptions, 1,698 yards, 13 TDs); the emergence of RB Le’Veon Bell (290 rushes, 1,361 yards, 8 TDs), giving Pittsburgh a solid Rushing attack; and, the Steelers 4-2 mark against AFC North opponents (Ravens 3-3 vs. Division, Bengals 3-3, Browns 2-4). In short, Baltimore pretty much lost the Division last season because Cincinnati beat them in both Regular Season meetings, with all of that mathematical beauty—three double-digit Win teams in AFC North—not even mattering as the Ravens eliminated the Steelers in the Playoffs (30-17) at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in the opening round of the AFC Playoffs. And whether or not the AFC North (8/1 to win Super Bowl, 5Dimes) can have another outstanding year like 2014 remains to be seen and the oddsmakers only have the paltry NFC South lined higher than the AFC North. So the thought is these three AFC North teams will beat up on each other again and that AFC teams like the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos have attained Elite status in the NFL and all have much better of getting to a theoretical AFC Championship game and winning it this season. And it makes perfect sense as having all three make the postseason—like they did last year—will be hard enough with AFC teams like the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins all seemingly on the upswing and potentially fighting for those valuable Wild Card berths. Anyway, enough about the AFC and more about the Black and Gold, Mr. Writerman. Por favor mi amigo. We have many meaningless text messages to check if you don’t mind. Chop chop.
The Steelers (12/1 to win AFC, William Hill) were tied for 16th in the NFL last season in Turnover Differential with a dead-even +0 margin (21 Takeaways - 21 Giveaways =), and anyone who’s a fan of this football teams knows that for Pittsburgh to be at its absolute best, the Defense almost needs to be like an Offense of sorts and create TOs, Field Position advantages and Points on their own. And with legendary Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau leaving for the Tennessee Titans, it could take a couple of years for new DC Keith Butler to get this Steelers Defense where it should be. Losing a future Hall of Famer and team legend like CB Troy Polamalu (Retired) is also never an easy thing, and the losses of CB Ike Taylor and LB Jason Worilds—also to Retirement—is also a big shot for Pittsburgh (+225 to win AFC North, William Hill), although not even close to the brutal reality the San Francisco 49ers Defense (and entire Roster and Coaching Staff) have been through this Offseason. The Steelers did do themselves a huge favor however by hiring Mike Munchak as their new Offensive Line coach. Protecting and getting as much as possible out of the now 33-year-old Big Ben has seemingly been the Modus Operandi in Pittsburgh for a decade. And whereas the majority of past successful Steelers teams have had great Defenses, this current Pittsburgh unit just can’t say the same, so getting the most out of veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger and giving the football to RB Le’Veon Bell or throwing it to WR Antonio Brown will again be the preferred way of controlling the football by trying to keep possession away from opponents. It will be hard for Brown and Bell to repeat the monster successes they both had in 2014, so other skill position players on the Pittsburgh roster like Free Agent RB DeAngelo Williams (Panthers)—a fantastic signing by General Manager Kevin Colbert—veteran TE Heath Miller, WR Martavis Bryant, WR Markus Wheaton and Rookie WR Sammie Coates (Auburn) will have to have solid seasons of their own in the Steel City. But honestly, the Offense and skill position players are as good as they’ve been in quite some time. This will be a fun team to watch.
Maybe the Steelers (W4, Regular Season) biggest problem this coming NFL Regular Season? An absolutely brutal L6 Regular Season games on the Regular season schedule which could possibly either cost Pittsburgh the AFC North title or maybe even a precious Playoff spot if it loses a couple games in Weeks 12-17 it theoretically should have won. Here’s that Rough Patch: In Week 12, the Steelers head to Seattle to play the defending NFC champions Seahawks then Pittsburgh heads Home in Week 13 to face Andrew Luck and the upstart Indianapolis Colts (10/1 to win Super Bowl, William Hill) at Heinz Field followed by a meeting in Cincinnati with the Bengals in Week 14 in what could be a huge AFC North tilt. In Week 15, the Steelers host Peyton Manning and the Broncos and then are at the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in Week 16 before wrapping up the Regular Season in Week 17 at Cleveland at FirstEnergy Stadium in what could end up being a must-win for the Steelers and a tougher game than it looks with the Browns likely having nothing to lose and maybe able to make their own miserable season by ruining Pittsburgh’s? Where’s the Love? But, that’s plain nasty brother, like a long cold shower with the Seahawks-Colts-Bengals-Broncos-Ravens all back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Almost illegal. And if Pittsburgh does finish at, or below .500 and misses the NFL postseason this season, then Mr. Schedule-maker will probably get some of the blame along with fiery 9th-year Head Coach Mike Tomlin (68-67-2 ATS) as well as the departed Polamalu and Lebeau. And rightfully so.
And should Pittsburgh somehow make it through that brutal Gridiron Non-Minefield from late November until early, early 2016, then the thought here is that the Steelers probably won’t have enough energy or healthy bodies left to make a decent playoff run. Think about it. Nobody ever set a world record running the Mile by running a Marathon before that race. Energy, Health and Defense matter and the Steelers could be a little short on all three come January, although a 9-7 mark could still earn them a Wild Card spot and this team is just as good and just as talented as division favorites Baltimore. Despite improvements on Offense, the evolving Defense and the Black and Gold’s treacherous path—which seems awfully crooked from this handicapping distance—are the main reasons that Pittsburgh’s Regular Season Team Win Total (8½), Super Bowl (28/1) and AFC North (+225) odds all look a little off. They’re really not.
Steelers QB Depth: Ben Roethlisberger—Bruce Gradkowski—Landry Jones (Tajh Boyd Released on Tuesday)
Who’s New and Could Have an Impact? Free Agent RB DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), Rookie OLB Bud Dupree (Kentucky), Rookie CB Senquez Golson (Ole Miss), Rookie WR Sammie Coates (Auburn), Rookie CB Doran Grant (Ohio State), Rookie TE Jesse James (Penn State), Rookie DT Leterrius Walton (Central Michigan), Rookie DT Anthony Chickillo (Miami-Florida), Rookie FS Gerod Holliman (Louisville)
Who’s Gone From the Roster Now? CB Troy Polamalu (Retirement), LB Jason Worilds (Retirement), CB Ike Taylor (Retirement), Free Agent CB Brice McCain (Dolphins), QB Tajh Boyd (Released Tuesday), K Shaun Suisham (Torn ACL Left Knee), Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau (Tennessee Titans Defensive Coordinator, Associate Head Coach)
Possible Losses on Schedule: Week 1: @ Patriots; Week 4: vs. RAVENS; Week 5 @ Chargers; Week 7 @ Chiefs; Week 12 @ Seahawks; Week 13 vs. COLTS; Week 14: @ Bengals; Week 15: vs BRONCOS; Week 16: @ Ravens; Week 17: @ Browns
Some Good Potential Betting Spots in Regular Season: It seems like a good spot to fade the Steelers in Week 1 vs. the Patriots in the NFL Season Kickoff opener from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Thursday, Sept. 10 (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT) in a must-see game in which Patriots QB Tom Brady may be suspended for his part in the infamous Deflategate scandal in the AFC Championship game last season with Pittsburgh RB Bell (Marijuana) also missing the game as he serves the first game of his 3-game suspension...as long as you can find the Patriots at -3 or less that is. Who knows how the appeal will come out and if the initial 4-game Brady Suspension will be upheld/reduced/evaporated and some sportsbooks have this one off the board now but one thing you probably don’t want is a ticket with New England -3½ now not knowing if Captain America or Tony Garoppolo will be playing. Fading Pittsburgh in Week 14 at CenturyLink in Seattle against the Seahawks seems smart with the Trends (Steelers 1-6 ATS L7 at Seattle), Travel (2,592 miles) and Time Difference (EST to PST = 3 Hours difference) all favoring the hosts. And backing the Steelers in both meetings against the Bengals (Weeks 8 and 14) and at San Diego in Week 5 is recommended as Head Coach Tomlin (87-50 SU) and his team knows they will have to win games like those in order to be able to deal with that wicked schedule stretch coming in Weeks 12 through 17. The NFL certainly isn’t for the feint of heart.
Sarcastic Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl Matchup and Odds to Make You Smile: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles +1,490/1 (5Dimes)
Are There Any Good Steelers Futures Bets Now? If you think Pittsburgh can handle that nasty Week 12-17 schedule finish and can repeat as AFC North champs, then making a Futures bet for Pittsburgh to win the AFC North (+225, 888Sport) at the better than 2-to-1 odds you can still find some places seems Wise right about now. There is perceived value in that +225, and it may be worth a shot, but that aforementioned bitch of a schedule will make it hard for some to bite. And whereas last year, the two divisional games between the Bengals (+255 to win AFC North, 5Dimes) and Ravens (+160, 5Dimes) determined who ended up winning the AFC North, it could end up being the two games between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati which make the big difference this time around. Also, with the Steelers Regular Season Team Win Total, set at 8½ (Under -120, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)—because of the brutal schedule and division in which they play—it does seem like an Over bet (+100) could be justified as the Steelers don’t seem like an 8-8 team no matter who they have lost and that 9th victory should could from somewhere, somehow despite games against the NFL’s Elite in the Patriots, Broncos, Colts and NFC champion Seahawks. For Pittsburgh’s Regular Season Team Win Total to go Over, the Steelers will likely have to win one of those four games, both meeting with the Bengals and one against the Ravens. And that’s not out of the question with Roethlisberger, Brown, Bell, Bryant and now Williams on Offense, and an upset in Week 1 at New England with a potentially suspended Brady could end up being the ‘W’ that puts Pittsburgh over the top in 2015.
Recent Relevant Trends: Steelers 6-2 ATS L8 Rams; Steelers 4-1 ATS L5 Ravens; Steelers 3-0 ATS L3 vs Bengals, 4-1 ATS L5 Chiefs; Steelers 7-3 ATS L10 vs Chargers, 4-1 ATS L5 at San Diego; Steelers 3-9 ATS L12 vs Patriots, 2-5 ATS L7 at New England; Steelers 2-5 ATS L7 vs 49ers; Steelers 1-3 ATS L4 vs Chiefs, 1-4 ATS L5 at Kansas City; Steelers 1-5 ATS L6 vs Raiders; Steelers 1-6 ATS L7 at Seahawks; Steelers 1-4 ATS L5 vs Broncos; Steelers 1-3 ATS L4 vs Browns
Players to Watch: QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell, C Maurkice Pouncey, Free Agent RB DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), OLB James Harrison, OLB Arthur Moats, K Garrett Hartley, WR Markus Wheaton, TE Heath Miller, CB William Gay, DE Cameron Heyward, ILB Lawrence Timmons, Rookie OLB Bud Dupree (kentucky), Rookie CB Senquez Golson (Ole Miss), Rookie WR Sammie Coates (Auburn), Rookie CB Doran Grant (Ohio State), Rookie TE Jesse James (Penn State), Rookie DT Leterrius Walton (Central Michigan), Rookie DT Anthony Chickillo (Miami-Florida), Rookie FS Gerod Holliman (Louisville), LB Jarvis Jones, FS Mike Mitchell, SS Will Allen, S Shamarko Thomas
Bet Against Pittsburgh Steelers in Regular Season: Week 1—on Road at New England (Steelers 3-9 ATS L12 vs Patriots,2-5 ATS L7 at New England; Week 1 Odds: Patriots -3, Total: 49, Mirage); Week 12—on Road at Seattle Seahawks (Steelers 1-6 ATS L7 on Road vs Seahawks in Seattle)
Bet on Pittsburgh Steelers in Regular Season: Week 5—on Road at San Diego (Steelers 7-3 ATS L10 vs Chargers, 4-1 ATS L5 in San Diego); Week 8—at Home vs Bengals (Steelers 3-0 ATS L3 vs Bengals, 4-1 ATS L5 at Home vs Cincinnati); Week 14—on Road at Bengals (Steelers 4-1 ATS L5 at Cincinnati)
Pittsburgh Steelers Futures Picks: Regular Season Team Win Total Over 8½ +100 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook), Steelers to Win AFC North +225 (888Sport)