Steelers’ fans have been less than thrilled that many of the preseason power rankings do not have the Steelers where they belong.
Worse yet, it is the hated Patriots that are typically being placed into that top slot.
I personally believe that the Super Bowl champion should always start the season at the top of any power ranking.
They are the champions.
It is up to the other teams to take that spot from them.
And the Super Bowl runnerup, unless the team got blown out (flashback to the 80s), deserves to be very near the top—not in the absurd spots where the Arizona Cardinals are finding themselves in the rankings, usually outside the top ten.
Let’s face it...Steelers’ fans are an optimistic and highly loyal bunch who, by and large, will never openly acknowledge that another team should be rated ahead of the Steelers.
That’s not saying that Steelers fans aren’t smart.
We know everything there is to know about the team down to the most obscure details.
But, openly admitting we think another team might be better than our beloved Steelers is just not part of our repertoire, even if all evidence points to the contrary (again…flashback to the 80s).
Steelers’ fans see putting any team ahead of the Steelers as a snub. In this instance, they are right.
It is a snub.
Peter King seemed flabbergasted that so many Steelers’ fans wrote to complain that he had the audacity to put the Steelers at No. 2 in his preseason power rankings.
What did he expect to happen?
That being said, I couldn’t be happier to see the Steelers not being put into that top spot. Frankly, I’d be even happier if the “experts” were burying them down where they are sticking the Cardinals since it may serve as added motivation for this team and help them keep their edge entering the start of this season.
Full disclosure: I’ve never bought into the theory that teams grow complacent after winning the Super Bowl. These are professionals and there are 32 teams in the league loaded with outstanding football players. Even the players on the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns are being paid to play football.
Should we really be surprised that teams rarely repeat?
But, in case I’m wrong, I’m all for whatever motivational edge the Steelers can find entering the season. And starting the season outside of that top spot might be great for motivation.
I also recognize that the power rankings are completely meaningless. That No. 1 spot will likely change hands several times during the season.
Because even the best teams have at least one rotten egg ready to be laid at some point in the season. And as soon as they lay it, all the sportswriters will rush to be the first to bury them for it.
The key is to get the stink bombs out of the system early so they are long gone by playoff time.
If the Steelers are going to repeat this year, chances are high that they will have to knock off the Patriots to do it. Frankly, I don’t think it is that big of a stretch for anyone to put the Patriots at the top of the preseason power rankings.
They are also the preseason favorites in Las Vegas.
This is a team only one year removed from putting together the most dominating regular season in the history of the NFL. And next year’s squad will look far too similar to that squad for my comfort.
I keep hearing how Tom Brady won’t be himself after returning from injury. That sounds like a whole lot of wishful thinking to me.
Is it possible that he may struggle in returning from the injury?
Sure, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
The guy has ice in his veins. He is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen play the position. He is also the only quarterback in the league I’d rank ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. And he will once again be armed with two of the league’s top receiving weapons in Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
While nine out of ten sportswriters regularly gush that Bill Belichick is a genius, it sure is easier to look like that evil genius when you have a guy like Tom Brady running the offense.
Where the Steelers clearly outclass the Patriots is on the defensive side of the football.
The defenses aren’t even close.
The Patriots secondary last year was wretched. Deltha O’Neal bore a stark resemblance to burnt toast, and I think shipping off Ellis Hobbs in the draft day trade was a risky move.
But, like the Steelers’ offensive line, that paper-thin secondary also improved over the course of the season. And they added plenty of youth to the mix this year. The other knock on their defense was that their great linebacker corps of recent memory was long in the tooth and showing its age.
But, they hit big on Jerrod Mayo, adding one of the best young linebackers in football.
Do I think the Patriots will have a great defense next year?
No, I think they will be right smack in the middle of the NFL while the Steelers once again top the chart.
But, if their offense is hitting on all cylinders, as I expect it will, how good will the defense really need to be? When you can put up 30+ points on most given Sundays, defense isn’t quite as critical.
The Steelers offense will need to be better this year to get by the Patriots and position the team to add a ring to the collection. The good news is that I expect the offense to be much better this year.
Bruce Arians will likely become a much better coordinator and the offensive line should be somewhat improved from how they played during much of last season. The running game has a decent chance of getting back on track and the passing game if Limas Sweed takes a step forward—could be very good.
Shaun McDonald should also be a nice addition in the slot.
Will they be as good as the Patriots on offense?
Only in our wildest rose-colored dreams. But, they may be able to push up closer to the outskirts of the top ten offenses in the league.
And the Patriots’ offense might not be quite what it was a couple years back. Their offensive line that year was rock solid until failing to show up against the New York Giants (see earlier rotten egg comment).
There were times watching the Pats that year that I swear Brady could have read War and Peace in the pocket while waiting to throw the ball.
When that luxury was removed, he didn’t look quite as Bradyesque. Last year’s version of the offensive line, while relying on mostly the same players, looked a bit more ordinary.
In last year’s Steelers-Patriots matchup, the Patriots’ offensive line could not block the Steelers’ linebackers, especially James Harrison. I’m not sure Brady would have fared much better in that game, although he likely would not have given up the slew of turnovers that Matt Cassell so cheerfully served on a silver platter.
That is where the game will likely be won or lost for the Steelers. If they can continue to put that kind of pressure on the quarterback, I really like their chances of knocking off the Pats and repeating as Super Bowl champions.
So, how do I see it playing out?
The two teams don’t play one another during the regular season but will be jostling for playoff position. The Steelers appear to have an easier schedule, although that is much harder to tell than it used to be in the topsy-turvy NFL.
Still, the Lions and Browns are not likely to transform into football juggernauts over night.
I expect both the Steelers and Patriots to finish about 12-4 although, based on the schedule, the Steelers can creep up to as high as 14-2 if their offensive line can keep Ben upright a bit more often this year.
Whichever team is able to grab that top seed will have a huge advantage in the playoffs.
The teams are close enough in ability that one big injury will swing the pendulum either way. The game of the year will be the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh.
So, how will it end?
After knocking off the Patriots in a surprisingly low scoring game, the season will end with the Steelers beating the Eagles in the all-Pennsylvania matchup that almost happened in 2008.
Dare we dream?