In a recent Pittsburgh-Steelers" title="segment" target="_blank">segment of "NFL All Access" on NFL Network, Pittsburgh Post Gazette Columnist Gene Collier said that the Steelers are set to win a grand total of six games. One of Collier's reasons for such an abysmal record is obviously the suspension of starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
Full season predictions made before training camps have started are, at best, premature and remember that anything premature is never good . With that in mind there is only one thing left to do, give another premature prediction. The Steelers will be a playoff team in 2010.
The first reason the Steelers shouldn't be overlooked is the quarterback position. Now it be foolish to think that the team is better with their Pro Bowl passer suspended but it would also be foolish to think that it will ruin their season either.
First, lets make the assumption that Big Ben's suspension will be reduced to four games. Its a safe assumption because the Rooney's made it clear to Roethlisberger that he will be traded or worse if he has another altercation. So that already makes the future a little brighter for the black and gold.
Next let's examine who will be filling in for Big Ben. Personally I think Dennis Dixon is ready to be an NFL starting signal caller and should be head coach Mike Tomlin's number two trigger man but apparently the Steelers fancy veteran Byron Leftwich instead.
That being said, Leftwich is a solid start who knows offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' interesting, but stupid, offense. Obviously having a veteran who knows the system sounds good for a team who just needs a leader to not screw things up but it has its other advantages as well.
Thanks to the current situation the Steelers need to prepare the starting offense to operate at top form with two different guys under center in training camp. Preparing one is hard enough and having both of them be experienced within the system makes the job a little easier.
Leftwich knows how to prepare as a starting quarterback and won't need someone watching his every step. He's also proved to be a reliable player in a pinch, particularly with a good team already around him.
With the Steelers in 2008, Leftwich completed 58.3 percent of his passes, threw for two touchdowns, no interceptions, averaged a career high 8.4 yards-per-throw and even ran for a score. Sure those aren't eye popping stats but they're enough to lead a run-first team with a top-10 defense and play-making receivers to a few wins.
So just who will Leftwich need to beat to keep Pittsburgh on the playoff track?
First up is the Atlanta Falcons. Some have started to labeled the Falcons as Super Bowl contenders but they rely an awful lot on their run game which might struggle against an always solid Pittsburgh run defense and even Leftwich should be able to gain some yards against Atlanta's 28th ranged pass defense. Also the Falcons have only defeated the Steelers twice. Ever.
Second is the Tennessee Titans, who could likely give the Steelers defense fits. With one of the NFL's worst defenses just about any team can give the Titans similar fits. Also if anyone can counter Chris Johnson it is a healthy Troy Polamalu. This game, however, might just come down to Leftwich making a play or two; a potentially worrisome but not impossible happening.
Third is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Steelers will be at worst 1-2 after this game is over. Enough said.
Fourth is the real litmus test for Byron Leftwich: the Baltimore Ravens. They are as imposing as their name and their roster would lead you to believe but it won't be impossible for the Steelers to pull this one out of a hat either. Lets keep in mind that Pittsburgh game dangerously close to beating a similar Baltimore team last year with Dixon at the helm (see, Dixon should be the starter) and no Polamalu. Also remember that Baltimore and Pittsburgh almost always split their two games per season giving Tomlin and company a mathematical 50% chance of a huge victory.
Conclusion: Reduced Suspension + Leftwich + Not Overly Difficult Schedule = a (3-1) or (2-2) Steelers without Roethlisberger = the Steelers being on the playoff track.
Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3, and 4 of why the Steelers WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS.
Part 2: Secondary
Part 3: Linebackers
Part 4: Run Game