It's officially a new era in Pittsburgh.
Ben Roethlisberger's retirement leaves the Steelers without a franchise stalwart who guided them to two Super Bowls and provided a consistent presence under center for the better part of two decades.
The team has gone about replacing him by signing Mitchell Trubisky to a two-year contract and drafting Kenny Pickett in the first round.
Trubisky comes to Pittsburgh after spending last season as the backup to Josh Allen in Buffalo. The former No. 2 overall pick hopes getting a chance to start will help turn his career around after he busted out of Chicago after four seasons.
Pickett will be playing his pro career in the same stadium where he starred at college. The four-year starter was a Heisman finalist after a breakout 2021 season at Pitt and was the only quarterback taken in the first two rounds of this year's draft.
Pittsburgh also made a splash at linebacker, adding Myles Jack after the Jacksonville Jaguars released him. The departures of Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Joe Haden will hurt, but this is a team that looks every bit as solid (albeit unspectacular) as last year's squad.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Schedule
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Based on their opponents' 2021 records, the Steelers have the 12th-hardest schedule in football next season. Year-over-year records in the NFL are rarely static, so it's an imperfect measurement, but it's not hard to envision a scenario where Pittsburgh is in the AFC North basement.
The Baltimore Ravens are expected to bounce back with a healthy Lamar Jackson and revamped offensive line. The Cincinnati Bengals were the AFC's Super Bowl representative a year ago and have a burgeoning young superstar core on offense. The Cleveland Browns just added Deshaun Watson to a roster that was arguably a quarterback away from being a Super Bowl favorite.
Six games against those three teams is a murderers' row for a middling roster that barely scraped by to a wild-card spot a year ago. The Steelers ranked 23rd in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric last season, making them one of the worst teams ever to make the playoffs by that metric.
That said, the AFC North's common games are pretty weak. The AFC North takes on the AFC East and NFC South, arguably two of the three worst divisions in football. The Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only non-divisional Super Bowl contenders on the Steelers' schedule.
Games against the Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles aren't easy but are extremely winnable. Assuming Trubisky is an upgrade over the 2021 version of Roethlisberger—and it would be hard not to be—the Steelers could clean up outside their division and still have a chance to make the playoffs.
All of which is to say, splitting the AFC North matchups is vital to Pittsburgh sneaking into the postseason.
If we chalk the Bills and Bucs games up as losses, along with giving the Steelers a favorable 2-1 record against the Colts, Raiders and Eagles, that puts Pittsburgh at 6-6—meaning they'd have to go 4-1 in their remaining winnable games to be a playoff team.
That's doable. Roethlisberger was a disaster last year. Trubisky is going to be an improvement simply because of his ability to create out of the pocket. Najee Harris should also benefit from having someone non-stationary with him in the backfield.
That said, the Steelers feel like they're clearly the fourth-best team in this division and bound for a retooling year.
If that winds up being the case, expect to see calls for Pickett to take over for Trubisky early and often in Pittsburgh.