Yes they can be. They will be better for a variety of reasons. I will break down some reasons as to why they will be better than last year.
1. As you all know, the Steelers rookies usually never do much during their first year on the team. However, the second year is usually when they "find their way". I will list a lot of our young guys who have yet to play very much or have yet to be a full time starter or returning from injury.
Rashard Mendenhall:He is back. He didn't do much last year and to be honest I don't expect MUCH out of him this year. But the fact that he is back will make the team better.
Lawrence Timmons:He is in his 3rd year, and is the starter. He, by himself will make our D even better than last year if thats even possible. He played a good amount last year, but being a starter will guarantee him more playing time and more opportunities to make dynamic plays.
Daniel Sepvulveda:He is back. His rookie year he didn't have that great of an average with 42.8 and ranked 18th in the NFL. However he was ranked 4th in the NFL with punts inside the 20 at 41.2% Last year Berger was ranked 29th with a 41.3%. Sure 1.5 yards more per punt does not seem like a lot but keep in mind the Steelers offense last year was horrible for many games meaning Berger had a lot more territory to kick into unlike 2007 when the Steelers offense was ranked 9th compared to 20th last year. Sepulveda had a lot less real estate too kick into.
For example: If your team has many drives where you stall out inside your 20, you have a lot more chances too kick 50+ yard punts unlike if you stall out around the 50. He is another reason our D and team will be better. He will give us much better field position.
Limas Sweed:Yep, rookie WRs barely do anything during their rookie year. As he proved that as a fact again last year. However he should feel more comfortable as he sure did last night. He will make our offense better.
Ziggy Hood:Sure I don't expect much out of him in terms of stats etc. However I think he has a good chance of getting a good amount of playing time on 3rd downs or if any of our 3 DL starters are injured. Added depth and a 1st round talent like this guy will make our D once again even better.
That is all for the guys who by themselves while coming back from injury, being drafted or just getting better(Sweed) will easily make this team better.
2. Easy Schedule: This goes both ways. Last year I believe the Steelers won the Super Bowl due to the tough schedule simply because they were battle tested come playoff time. This year they wont be as battle tested but they should easily make the playoffs and secure a bye.
3. Mike Tomlin: Hes not a guy like Cowher who will seem satisfied with winning the Super Bowl. This guy is only entering his 3rd year as coach. He has a lot to prove and ways to go before hes done.
As you can see, I mainly believe and predict the Steelers to have a much better defense and overall team this year then last year if its even possible. And the guys I listed on the 1st point are the main reason why they will be better.
We have better depth on our team. Many injured players are coming back, many players from last year will be better like Sweed. We got rid of Foote, our only weak link on our defense and made in 10x better.
Now, our division rivals:
I am one not to believe the hype the Bengals have going. They were horrible last year. And I don't expect much from a team that hasn't been good in almost 20 yeas. They have a team with little leadership. When things get tough, they lose their composure. That's the difference between them and the Steelers.
The Browns do not even know who their QB is. I believe Quinn is predicted to start but losing there best offensive weapon in Winslow will hurt big time. They are in the same boat as the Bengals regarding the leadership issue.
The Ravens I have mixed feelings on and prefer not to make a bold prediction regarding them. I know there D will again be good. They lost Rex Ryan but they always have good Defense. Flacco is in his 2nd year, he could be better or worse.