The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally gotten some respect from a national media member. NFL Network’s Rich Eisen included the black and gold as one of his five sleepers for the upcoming season. The other teams on his list were the Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, Las Vegas Raiders, and New Orleans Saints with the Steelers rounding it out.
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) July 1, 2022
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the national media hasn’t exactly been kind to the Steelers this off-season. 2021 wasn’t the year Pittsburgh fans were expecting, but head coach Mike Tomlin and co. still managed to make the playoffs — one of just 14 teams to do so. Since the ugly playoff exit, the Steelers have made significant improvements and reinforcements.
Joe Haden, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Stephon Tuitt, and Ben Roethlisberger won’t exactly be easy to replace. The team managed to go on without two of those guys last year though, as Tuitt and Smith-Schuster suffered long-term injuries. While it’s unclear who will start at quarterback between Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, it’ll be hard to be any worse than Roethlisberger was in his final season.
The front office was able to sign James Daniels, Levi Wallace, and Myles Jack, while drafting talented wide receivers in Calvin Austin III and George Pickens. The Steelers went against their typical status quo and went to work in free agency by spending an unusual amount of money. Of course, not having a ton of money locked into the quarterback position helps with that.
Many other AFC teams improved significantly during the off-season as well, mainly the West division. The likes of Khalil Mack, Russell Wilson, Von Miller, Chandler Jones, and Davante Adams all moved over from the NFC, so the talent in the AFC has certainly improved. As a result, no one is picking the Steel Curtain to make the playoffs. They have to worry about their own division first in the AFC North before they begin to think about others.
In the last month, both ESPN and PFF have had the Steelers 21st in their respective power rankings. Pro Football Talk’s Peter King had them even lower, slotted in at No. 23 on his list. King had this to say about the black and gold:
“If the coach was anyone but Mike Tomlin, I’d think of the 2022 Steelers in the 5-12 range. They still might be in that neighborhood, because for the first time since training camp 2004, there’s no Ben Roethlisberger, and significant questions about whether Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett can be a good NFL passer.
The offense should run through Najee Harris. His 307 carries as a rookie in 2021 could easily graduate to 330 in 2022. For the Steelers to be close to good, the defense will have to be better than 24th in the league in yards allowed. The talent is too good for that, and new coordinator Teryl Austin will be under pressure to make sure it’s a better unit.”
No one is arguing Pittsburgh will become the first team ever to go 17-0 in the regular season. But one would have to think they deserve at least a bit more respect, especially with Tomlin heading the team. It is nice to see the Steelers get some sort of positive recognition though, even if it’s minimal.
Steelers fans, what are your expectations for 2022? Is it fair to label them as a “sleeper” as Eisen did? Let us know your thoughts below!
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