The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly upended the eventual Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round last season despite playing without top wide receiver Antonio Brown, top running back Le’Veon Bell, and backup running back DeAngelo Williams. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also played in the game just one week after injuring his shoulder, and it still took a late touchdown drive by the Broncos to survive.
It’s more than reasonable to assume that had the Steelers been at full strength, Pittsburgh would not only have beaten the Broncos but very likely could’ve made a Super Bowl run. Not only does Pittsburgh get every one of those players back from injury, but the Steelers also made a number of upgrades over the offseason.
Tight end Heath Miller made the decision to retire, and Steelers general manager went all out, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to replace him with San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green. Although Green only posted 37 catches for 429 yards and four touchdowns in 2015, he posted 19 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns during the first four games of the season while filling in for the suspended Antonio Gates.
Adding a tight end with the athleticism that Green possesses will give the Steelers a weapon to control the middle of the field and will also give Roethlisberger another option in the red-zone. With Martavis Bryant suspended for the season, Pittsburgh’s signing of Ladarius could end up being one of the most vital of the offseason.
Ben to Ladarius Green: “You’re like that grand new Ferrari that I have that’s in the impound lot that we’re just looking thru the fence at.”
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) June 14, 2016
Besides tight end, the Steelers knew entering the offseason that they must address a defense that finished 2015 ranked as the No. 21 defense in the NFL, allowing 363.1 yards per game. The team also ranked No. 30 in pass defense, allowing 271.9 passing yards per game. Pittsburgh re-signed starting corner William Gay, and the Steelers also added University of Miami corner Artie Burns with their first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Tomlin: Artie Burns = good listener. “Young guys w/ answers are scary. He doesn’t appear to have all the answers. He’s got questions…”
— Jacob Klinger (@Jacob_Klinger_) June 14, 2016
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t stop there, as the team added University of Maryland safety Sean Davis with its second-round pick followed by defensive tackle Javon Hargrave out of South Carolina State in the third round. The Steelers knew where their weakness was, and they addressed it head-on in the offseason and through the draft.
Pittsburgh already possessed the No. 3 offense in the NFL in 2015 despite Roethlisberger missing four games and Bell missing 10. Now the Steelers have the pieces in place to upgrade the defensive side of the ball.
In addition to the Steelers strengthening their weaknesses, the team will also benefit from a weak division. The Cleveland Browns are the worst team in football, the Cincinnati Bengals have to deal with the loss of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the loss of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and a number of changes in the defensive secondary, and the Baltimore Ravens are trying to recover from its worst season under John Harbaugh.
In all seriousness, the perennial top teams in the AFC will be down in 2016, which should open plenty of doors for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The New England Patriots will potentially have to deal with the loss of Tom Brady for four games, and the Denver Broncos have no clue who’s going to play quarterback. There’s really no other team in the conference that can match the Pittsburgh Steelers in terms of sheer talent and ability.
That’s why, barring major injuries, I believe the Pittsburgh Steelers will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 5, 2017, in Houston following a victory in Super Bowl LI.
[Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images; Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images]