There was a lot of buzz about this team in the '07 season. There were a lot of talks about a possible Super Bowl run and how Big Ben would lead his team to a second victory.
However, the Steelers hit the field as if they were a completely different team. Ending the season with a 10-6 record and an early playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that dominated them in the regular season, Pittsburgh hardly seemed like a team destined for the Super Bowl any time soon.
The game that stuck out thoroughly in my mind was their regular season victory over the Miami Dolphins, a team that finished 1-15. The Pittsburgh Steelers should've been heavily favored to slaughter the poor 'Phins.
Instead, we saw a game effected greatly by the weather in which neither team gained any real footing throughout. Sadly enough, by the end of the fourth quarter, it was still anybody's game.
Pittsburgh pulled off a narrow victory, winning 3-0. For a team known to be rough and tumble, I expected more out of the Steelers in that game.
The good news is that Big Ben showed he was still a fantastic quarterback worthy of praise. He threw 404 passes and completed 264 of them with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Roethlisberger also proved his strength and durability by rushing for 204 yards for a total of two touchdowns. He had a healthy receiving corps in Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward, and a powerful rusher in Willie Parker.
Pittsburgh's defense also proved to be quite formidable, often giving its offense second chances with stops and interceptions.
The bad news?
Ben was sacked 47 times and lost a career high of 347 yards as a result. He also fumbled the ball nine times, three of which resulted in turnovers. Most quarterbacks you wouldn't be able to place much blame on for these mistakes. Roethlisberger was an exception in this case though.
This year he was allowed to take more direct control of his offense, being allowed to call and change plays on a whim, the result of which was mixed. I'm not saying it's all his fault, just saying that doing what it takes to be a great leader will often lead you to being more open for criticism.
The Steelers enter this season with the toughest schedule in the NFL.
This being head coach Mike Tomlin's second year, I hope he continues to be confident in his team and push them to their limits. The team will need all the motivation and skill it can muster to try and escape the '08 season with a .500 record or better.
New England, San Diego, Indianapolis, Dallas, Jacksonville, the New York Giants and Cleveland all present strong challenges for this team. Cleveland, who many predict to dethrone the Steelers in the AFC North this year (mostly because of an easier schedule), perhaps presents the most important hurdle they must get over.
A loss to the Browns could end up being the difference between Pittsburgh making the playoffs or not this year. I think an early flurry of victories to boost their confidence is what this team will need to make another playoff appearance.
Overall, I expect this team to remain in a dead heat with Cleveland until the end of the season, but I do see them as division champions once again, however narrow that victory might be.
With a tough schedule and strong division rivals, I predict them to end the season with a record of either 8-8 or 9-7. As long as they don't get too burned out from the late rush to secure a playoff position, you may even see them end deeper in the playoffs than last season.
Only time will tell.