10 Reasons Pittsburgh Steelers Will Remain the Class of the AFC North

Kyle Stanzel@@DmndPrspctsCorrespondent IIIJuly 13, 2012

10 Reasons Pittsburgh Steelers Will Remain the Class of the AFC North

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    There aren't many NFL teams that would be disappointed with a 12-4 season and a trip to the playoffs, but the Pittsburgh Steelers' expectations are a little different than the rest of the league's.

    After a gut-wrenching overtime loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, the Steelers went through a bit of a transition offseason that saw seasoned veterans get released and a new offensive coordinator get brought in.

    The most difficult part about the 2011 season for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers had to have been getting swept in the regular season by their arch-rival the Baltimore Ravens for the first time since 2006.

    Pittsburgh came out flat in the Week 1 game at Baltimore and got trounced by a 35-7 margin. Then in November, Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a game-winning drive late in the game to beat the Steelers in a nail-biter 23-20 victory.

    While some saw this as perhaps a changing of the guard at the top of the AFC North, it seemed more like a good Ravens team taking advantage of what was a shaky year for the Steel Curtain.

    Here is a look at 10 reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers will remain the class of the AFC North when they take the field in 2012.

Have the Best Coach in the AFC North

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    Perhaps the most telling indicator of the Pittsburgh Steelers' greatness is the fact that since 1969 the team has employed just three head coaches.

    That speaks to the excellence of Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin is worthy of being considered with those two Hall of Famers.

    Just 40 years old, Tomlin in just five years as Steelers' head coach has put together a 55-25 record and taken the team to two Super Bowls.

    In 2009 he became the youngest head coach of all time to win a Super Bowl at 37.

    John Harbaugh has done an excellent job during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, but he hasn't been able to push his team past the AFC Championship Game.

    With Mike Tomlin leading the charge, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still the team to beat in the AFC North.

A Healthy Ben Roethlisberger

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    Despite making the Pro-Bowl team last season, Ben Roethlisberger was banged up with a serious ankle injury that was noticeably affecting him late in the season.

    A healthy Big Ben is capable of putting Pittsburgh on his back and carrying them to the Super Bowl, and that is what Steelers fans are hoping for in 2012.

    There is no doubting that when Roethlisberger is on his game, he is one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks, as we have seen with his two Super Bowl victories.

    While Joe Flacco may think he's the best quarterback in the NFL, (ESPN) he isn't even the best in his own division and may even be third behind the Cincinnati Bengals' young sensation Andy Dalton.

    A healthy Ben Roethlisberger for 2012 puts the Steelers in an excellent position to not only win the AFC North, but to compete for another Super Bowl victory.

Improvements Along Offensive Line

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    GM Kevin Colbert deserves a great deal of credit for the job he did at the 2012 NFL Draft in April.

    The offensive line had become the weakest part of the entire Steelers' team and it resulted in Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked 122 times in the past three seasons.

    In order to keep Ben healthy, the Steelers needed to upgrade the offensive line and Colbert did just that with his first two picks.

    First-round pick David DeCastro out of Stanford is widely considered the best guard prospect of the past decade and should be perennial Pro-Bowler on the Steelers line.

    Second-round pick Mike Adams had first-round pick potential coming out of Ohio State, and the Steelers were happy to take the tackle.

    Both DeCastro and Adams are expected to start as rookies in 2012 alongside Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert and All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey.

    With the additions of David DeCastro and Mike Adams, the Steelers have the makings of a very good, young offensive line.

New Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley

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    A Pittsburgh man, Todd Haley was brought in during the offseason to replace Bruce Arians as the new offensive coordinator.

    Formerly the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Haley is looking to get back to the ground and pound running style that used to be synonymous with the Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL.com).

    With bruising running back Isaac Redman carrying the ball and an improved offensive line, the Steelers should be able to control the clock well and keep the opposing defense on the field for long stretches of time.

    An increased emphasis on the run should also open up the play-action pass for Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers fans can get excited at the idea of Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown sprinting wide open down the field.

    With Todd Haley heading the offense, the Steelers offense will be much more efficient as a unit and will be tough to get off the field for the outstanding defenses in the AFC North.

Troy Polamalu

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    The 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winner, Troy Polamalu, remains the heart and soul of the Steel Curtain defense.

    In 2011 Polamalu played in all 16 games for the first time since the 2008 season and he was a big reason why the Steelers had the best defense in the NFL.

    Quarterbacks have to know where Polamalu and his ever-flowing hair are at all times and nobody times the snap count better than the Steelers' safety. If you want proof, just ask Kerry Collins.

    One of the most dynamic safeties in the NFL, Polamalu is a game-changing type of player on the defensive side of the ball and should continue to wreak havoc on the AFC North.

    With Troy Polamalu roaming the field, the Steelers should have no trouble stopping opposing offenses in 2012.

James Harrison

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    One of the most feared players in all of football, James Harrison is an absolute animal on the field, and it shows when he hits an opposing player.

    In fact, it shows so much that Roger Goodell and the NFL decided to suspend Harrison for one game for this hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy (ESPN).

    Despite his controversial play on the field, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year defines Pittsburgh Steelers defense with his hard-nosed tackling and ability to rush the passer.

    In just 11 games last season, Harrison was still able to sack the quarterback nine times and force two fumbles.

    Between Troy Polamalu and James Harrison the Pittsburgh Steelers have two of the best defensive players in the NFL and two players who will help them remain the team to beat in the AFC North.

Youth Movement on Defense

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    The Steelers were faced with some tough decisions this offseason and as a result were forced to cut defensive stalwarts James Farrior and Aaron Smith.

    While Pittsburgh will miss the veteran leadership of these players, Mike Tomlin has confidence in the young players coming up to replace them.

    On the defensive line the Steelers have a good young nucleus consisting of former first-round draft picks Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood. In between the two ends, 2012 fourth-round pick Alameda Ta'amu was a steal for the Steelers and should be the eventual replacement for Casey Hampton.

    Pittsburgh chose Sean Spence out of the University of Miami in the third round and the speedy linebacker could see time filling in for the departed Farrior in 2012.

    In the secondary there has been a battle for the starting cornerback spot opposite Ike Taylor, and Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown all show promise.

    The Steelers defense should be dominant as always next season, and the young stars will continue to develop and make sure the Steel Curtain never dies.

Terrell Suggs Injury and Possible Ray Rice Holdout

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    The Baltimore Ravens had a phenomenal 2011 season, sweeping the Steelers and coming ever so close to reaching the Super Bowl.

    John Harbaugh's team could have a difficult time repeating that success in 2012, especially without two of their biggest playmakers on either side of the ball.

    Steelers fans were certainly celebrating when they found out that Terrell Suggs had apparently balled a little too hard and injured his achilles in an offseason basketball game (ESPN).

    Suggs has terrorized the Steelers in recent years and he had 14 sacks in 2011 to go along with two interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

    On the offensive side of the ball, star running back Ray Rice could hold out through the entire preseason as he seeks a contract extension from management (Yahoo! Sports).

    While Rice shouldn't miss any regular season games, the missed preseason time should certainly set him back a little and cause him to be less effective in 2012 than he was in 2011.

    Last season, Rice rushed 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was also a very good passing option for Joe Flacco with 704 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

    With Terrell Suggs likely out for the season and Ray Rice distracted with his quest for a contract extension, the Ravens will have a hard time taking down the Steelers in 2012.

Coming off a Down Year

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    Focusing on the sweep at the hands of the arch-rival Ravens and the embarrassing playoff loss to the Tim Tebows, the Steelers had a rather disappointing season in 2011.

    Fortunately for Pittsburgh fans, the men in "Black and Yellow" are almost as good at bouncing back from down years as they are at shutting down opposing offenses.

    In fact, the last two years the Steelers didn't make the playoffs, in 2006 and 2009, they would go on to win the AFC North, including making it to the Super Bowl in 2010.

    Steelers fans like to think that last year was a fluke year and the Ravens one and only chance to get a Super Bowl victory in the Mike Tomlin era. Unfortunately for the city of Baltimore, the Ravens missed their chance at the big stage thanks to this hilariously terrible kick.

    With the way last season ended, you can bet that the Steelers will come out with a vengeance in 2012. 

Results Speak for Themselves

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    There is a reason the Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other team in the history of the NFL.

    There is a standard of excellence—a tradition of winning that is passed down from coach to coach and player to player.

    When a 12-4 season results in disappointment and nothing less than a Super Bowl victory is what you strive for, you know that you have a special team on your hands.

    While the AFC North is developing into one of the toughest divisions, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and yes, even Baltimore lack the big-time playoff experience and history of success that the Steelers have.

    While the rest of the division is changing from the pushovers that they used to be, one thing will remain certain in 2012.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers will do what they do best and continue to be the team to beat in the AFC North.