AFC North Prediction: Steelers Will Win The Division

Charles HoweCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2010

MIAMI - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace #17 in the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to win the AFC North. That’s right, I said it. Despite the suspension of Roethlisberger and key free agent signings in Baltimore and Cincinnati, the Steelers are going to be the best team in the division this year.

I believe the Roethlisberger suspension will be reduced to four games and is actually going to have a beneficial effect on the team this season. Dan Rooney has made it clear that he wants to see a return to running the football in Pittsburgh. The suspension just solidifies the fact that Mike Tomlin will keep the ball on the ground more often. Even in the Steelers’ pass happy offense last season, Rashard Mendenhall gained 1,108 rushing yards. Mendenhall is going to have a breakout season this year, due in part to Ben’s suspension.

In Ben’s absence, the Steelers’ biggest test will be the Ravens in week four. This will be the only game the Steelers lose during Roethlisberger’s suspension. When Ben takes the reins of the offense in week 6 after the bye, the Steelers will have a 3-1 record.

Pittsburgh is not going to lose a game to the Browns this season. Last year was a fluke. I am sure Cleveland fans were excited, but they’re going to have their hearts broken this season. Jake Delhomme is not the answer. Cleveland better hope that Colt McCoy develops quickly.

The Steelers will sweep the Bengals this season. The Bengals look nasty on offense, but they look nasty on offense every year. Cincinnati’s defense is still their liability and that will give the Steelers the edge. Besides, when was the last time that Cincinnati strung two good seasons in a row together?

The Steelers are going to split games with the Ravens. As previously mentioned, the Steelers are going to drop that week four matchup due to Ben’s suspension. The Ravens are the Steelers toughest test because they are improved offensively and always have a defense that rivals Pittsburgh’s defense. If you’re counting, and you should be, that means the Steelers will be 5-1 in the AFC North.

Furthermore, Ben Roethlisberger is going to have something to prove upon his return to action this season. The fact is that he has lost some fans as a result of his off field transgressions. The only way he can win some of those fans back is through his play on the field. He is going to respond phenomenally.

It doesn’t hurt that Roethlisberger has a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Hines Ward is going to play like Hines Ward plays. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Hines catch 70 passes for over 1,000 yards.

Mike Wallace had a tremendous rookie season with 756 yards through the air. He is taking on more responsibility this season and will see more targets due to the departure of Santonio Holmes. Mike has a good shot to gain 1,000 receiving yards this year.

Heath Miller had 789 receiving yards last season. He is a big target that Ben can rely on to bail him out in tough situations. Add Antwaan Randle El back to the mix as the slot receiver, a position at which he excelled early in his career. Ben has four legitimate receivers to target.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers are poised to turn the clock back to the 2008-2009 season. Larry Foote was brought back from Detroit to add depth at linebacker and Bryant McFadden was brought back from Arizona to improve the secondary. Troy Polamalu is healthy. All the pieces are falling into place to have a dominant defense. Don’t forget that last year the Steelers’ defense was ranked fifth in the NFL despite what seemed like a sub-par year. Between 2000 and 2009, the Steelers had the best defense four times. Expect 2010 to be the first season of this decade that the Steelers claim that top spot.

Kickoff/punt coverage will be improved. The Steelers brought in Al Everest to be the special teams coordinator because of sub-par play last season. Pittsburgh also signed Arnaz Battle and Will Allen that have been special teams standouts on other NFL teams. The coverage team allowing return touchdowns possibly cost the Steelers three wins last season. That will not happen this year.

The Steelers have the best defense in the AFC North. They might even be the best offense in the division. With special teams under control this season, they should dominate their division rivals. Injuries shouldn’t be the problem they were last year. Mark my words, the Steelers are the team to beat in the AFC North.