By, Faux John Madden (Special to OddsUSA.com)
Mike Tomlin has accomplished a lot in his 13-year coaching career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tomlin has never had a losing season in his 13 years of coach. Tomlin has led the Steelers to two Super Bowls, winning one. Tomlin also stole the show with eight years playing Dr. Eric Foreman on House.
Ok, that last Mike Tomlin fact actually is about Omar Epps, but nonetheless you can see the type of impact Mike Tomlin has had on the Steelers organization since being named Bill Cowher’s heir apparent all the way back in 2007.
But the 2019 season featured Tomlin’s best coaching performance yet, as the 48-year old coach fought through losing his franchise quarterback two games into the season, and managed to somehow get the Steelers to finish with an 8-8 record while being alive for a Wild Card berth up until the last week of the season, this despite also not having Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown last season as well who both wore out their welcomes in the Steel City.
Now as the 2020 NFL Season draws closer, the Steelers franchise QB, Ben Roethlisberger, returns to the lineup fully healthy for the first time since 2018 when he led the NFL in passing yards with 5,129, and the Steelers defense suddenly looks like one of the best units in football following the shrewd 2019 midseason acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Can Tomlin rally his Steelers for one last run at a Super Bowl with #7 under center?
Steelers 2019 Season Review
Rarely do teams manage to finish a season 8-8 when their QB suffers a season-ending injury in Week 2, but that’s what the Steelers accomplished in 2019.
Pittsburgh’s season began with a lot of questions circling the new-look offense that was about to arrive to the Steel City. Only one-third of the vaunted “Killer B’s” trio of Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown was set to return to the team in 2019, and that, of course, was Roethlisberger.
Kevin Fichtner was entering his second season as Steelers offensive coordinator, taking over for the prickly Todd Haley who already wore out his welcome in Cleveland after just a season there.
Fichtner’s job would become one of the more challenging in the NFL, as after Roethlisberger suffered his season-ending elbow surgery, the team was forced to turn to inexperienced backups Mason Rudolph (who would later nearly be turned into a pinata by Browns DE Myles Garrett) and something called a Duck Hodges.
After the team opened the season in Foxboro with a 33-3 blowout loss handed to them courtesy of Tom Brady, Roethlisberger would leave the game early against Seattle, a game the team would ultimately lose 28-26. Despite losing their quarterback for the season, the Steelers did not blink the following day when they would trade their 2020 1st round pick in a package for Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The trade would immediately pay off, as the Steelers defense transformed into one of the best groups in football. After starting 1-4, the Steelers would rattle off seven wins in their next eight games, bringing their record to an astonishing 8-5 without Ben Roethlisberger, and with James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster missing chunks of time. It was an incredible task just to get the Steelers to this point.
The Steelers could not sustain the magic carpet ride the entire way, however, as the middling offense would be unable to put up the points needed to win any of their last three games, including a Week 17 battle against a Ravens team that was sitting all of their key players.
Despite the struggles and three-game losing streak to end the season, the Steelers held their head high as they managed to finish 8-8 with their backup quarterbacks combining to throw for only 2,800 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. They had the 30th ranked offense in football, grouped with the likes of the Jets and Washington Football Team.
What kept the Steelers going was a defensive unit that was absolutely spectacular in 2019, finishing in the Top 5 of the league for points allowed and 3rd overall against the pass. With T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and the rest of a very talented group, the Steelers chances to end a brief playoff drought and to contend in the AFC North are once again looking up.
Excited to Play in the Stadium That Bane Once Blew-Up
TE Eric Ebron (Colts)
G Stefen Wisniewski (Chiefs)
FB Derek Watt (Chargers)
DT Chris Wormley (Ravens/Trade)
Despite Having 3 Cents of Cap Space, They Managed to Use the Franchise Tag On
LB Bud Dupree (Franchise Tender Signed)
One Season of Duck Hodges Was Enough
DT Javon Hargrave (Eagles)
LB Anthony Chickillo (Saints)
C B.J. Finney (Seahawks)
TE Nick Vannett (Broncos)
CB Artie Burns (Bears)
S Sean Davis (Washington)
Steelers 2020 Offensive Preview
Beyond Ben Roethlisberger returning to the lineup in 2020 for the Steelers, the biggest offseason addition to the Steelers offense came via free-agent addition Eric Ebron, formerly of the Colts.
Ebron hopes to bounce back after Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement sent his stats into a freefall, as he caught only 3 touchdown passes in 2019 after catching 13 the year before.
Ebron joins a Steelers passing attack that figures to look light years better with Ben Roethlisberger back under center for the black and yellow.
Of all the Steelers looking forward to their quarterback’s return, superstar JuJu Smith-Schuster is probably happiest of them all. No one missed Roethlisberger more than the 23-year old wide receiver, as his stats also pulled an “Ebron” and tanked under backups Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges. JuJu had 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018, that dropped all the way to 42 grabs for 552 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. Losing Antonio Brown’s presence opposite him also played a role in JuJu’s difficult season, as this was the first time in the young receiver’s career that he drew a team’s top corner every week.
Despite the offense’s struggles to move the ball and score points, WR James Washington enjoyed a breakout season while playing with his former college QB Mason Rudolph, and would lead the team in receiving with 735 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.
Another Steeler that suffered greatly from the absence of Roethlisberger was running back James Conner. Conner entered the 2019 season as the team’s official #1 running back as Le’Veon Bell officially departed to play for the Jets. Conner’s first full season as a starter did not go well, as he would be in and out of the lineup dealing with various injuries and would struggle to run against the 8, and sometimes, 9-man boxes that would matchup against the Steelers offense.
Conner would only rush for 464 yards in 10 games last season, and a platoon of backs before him (Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, and Trey Edmunds) would do little to help beyond that. Once again, this should not be the case in 2020 as the offensive line is one of the best units in football, and Roethlisberger’s mere presence in the lineup alone should open up a lot more lanes in the running game this season.
Steelers 2020 Defensive Preview
For as horrendous as the Steelers offense looked a year ago, the Steelers defense was anything but.
It had to make Steeler Nation giddy to see the Steelers defense back to the form they’ve been known for the last several decades. Once again, the pride and joy of the Steel City defense come with their linebacking corps, with All-Pro T.J. Watt and franchise-tag player Bud Dupree highlighting the group. The star duo combined for 26 sacks in 2019 and a whopping 12 forced fumbles.
The interior of the Steelers linebacking corps was anchored by first-round selection Devin Bush, who the Steelers moved up 10 spots to get a season ago to fill the gaping hole left by Ryan Shazier’s career-ending neck injury.
The Steelers continue to go with their traditional 3-4 scheme, and feature a defensive line with longtime Steelers’ Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt as the bookmarking ends, while Chris Wormley will start at nose tackle after a rare trade with the Baltimore Ravens brought him to the Steel City.
The Steelers secondary in 2020 should be just as much of a force this year as it was a season ago when they ranked as the third-best unit in football, with the aforementioned Minkah Fitzpatrick being the star of the group, alongside 2018 1st round pick Terrell Edmunds at strong safety and veterans Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at corner. The group is helped immensely by the Steelers front seven, which is arguably the best in football heading into the new season.
Steelers 2020 Outlook & Prediction
It’s rare to say an entire season hinges on the health of one player, particularly in a team game like football, but that’s exactly the situation the Steelers enter in 2020. This is a team that has literally every piece needed to make a run at a championship, the only uncertainty is the health of 38-year old Ben Roethlisberger. By all accounts early in the offseason program and camp, Roethlisberger looks like a healthy quarterback, which is only music to the ears of Steeler Nation.
If Ben can play all 16-games this season, the Steelers are a legit sleeper to win not only the AFC North but the Super Bowl as well. Their defense is perhaps the most underrated in all of football and has all the makings of a unit capable of playing deep into January.
We think Roethlisberger manages to find enough gas in the tank for one last run at a playoff spot, and he manages to get the job done with a 10-6 season.
Steelers 2020 Projection: 10-6, T-2nd AFC North
Steelers 2020 Betting Preview
There are a wide range of futures bets involving the black and yellow, here are the ones that make us want to twirl around a cotton towel as we wager on them.
- Pittsburgh Steelers OVER 9 Wins — (-121) at DraftKings Sportsbook
Pretty much any futures wager you’re going to make on the Steelers will be directly correlated to Ben Roethlisberger one way or the other. We’re going off the assumption that Ben will play the entire season, and if that is the case we think the over nine wins on Pittsburgh here is absolute thievery. The Steelers defense alone could get Pittsburgh halfway to this total, Roethlisberger making the Steelers skill position guys relevant again will change the entire dynamic of this football team. Eat the juice and take the over 9 here.
- Pittsburgh Steelers to Win AFC North — (+350) at DraftKings Sportsbook
For the record, we believe the Ravens are still the team to beat in the AFC North, but Baltimore suffered a significant blow to their defense when Earl Thomas was unceremoniously released from the team on August 23. The Steelers defense is the real deal, and if Roethlisberger is healthy all season, who knows what can happen in this rivalry? At +350 though, it’s certainly worth the shot.
- Pittsburgh Steelers to Win Super Bowl 54 — (+2500) at DraftKings Sportsbook
Our first Super Bowl futures bet of the 2020 NFL Preview! Again, we just love the value here on a team getting a franchise QB back from injury, who has a ton of weapons on offense, while fielding arguably the best defense in the conference. The Steelers are one of our favorite sleepers to get to Tampa and bring home another Lombardi, and at 25-to-1, why not take a little stab at the boys from Pittsburgh?