The Steel City was captivated by Ben Roethlisberger and company last season as they tore through their schedule and went undefeated against their first 11 opponents. But then the roof caved in, losing four of their last five, yet they hung on to claim the AFC North title, before ultimately getting beat by the Cleveland Browns.
Let’s discuss their prospects for this season and see what the oddsmakers at the best online sportsbooks are saying about the Steelers. Can they shake off the funk of their late-season skid and get back on the winning track or will they get derailed early and come on late? Let’s see what some of the biggest books in the business are revealing.
What are the Odds?
Let’s first take a look at the AFC North and see where the Steelers stand shortly before the first game of the 2021 NFL season.
Baltimore Ravens +140
Cleveland Browns +140
Pittsburgh Steelers +425
Cincinnati Bengals +1200
Based on what we see, the best NFL odds from many top-notch online sportsbooks are clearly not bullish on Pittsburgh’s chances. They are in fact, the third choice to win the North behind co-favorites Cleveland and Baltimore.
Did we ever think we’d see the Browns being touted as a division favorite? The apocalypse is upon us, Steelers fans.
As for Pittsburgh’s AFC title and Super Bowl aspirations, the Steelers are +2000 and +4000, respectively, while their season win total is 9 (O+105/U-125). Again, not exactly a rosy picture considering this is the first of what will now be a 17-game regular season over 18 weeks. If the Steelers record lands on the number, then a 9-8 season is unlikely to see them entering the postseason.
Najee Harris a Stud in the Making!
Pittsburgh got a steal when Najee Harris fell to them at No. 24 in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The 6’2”, 220-pound power back was a one-man wrecking crew for Alabama in his senior year, posting eye-popping numbers like 1466 rushing yards on 5.8 yards per carry, along with 26 rushing and four receiving touchdowns. Oh, and he also caught 43 passes for 425 yards.
Harris’ stellar skill-set makes him a three-down back at the next level, while his athleticism, vision, and quick-twitch alacrity made him the first tailback taken in April’s draft. The former Tide superstar has the ability to run over defenders, yet is also equipped with the patience to allow the holes to open up and take advantage of that daylight which is something normally seen from a much smaller scat-back.
If we listen to draft expert, Mel Kiper Jr., it’s evident he’s quite a fan of the Steelers’ first-round selection.
“He can catch the ball and run hard,” Kiper said on Get Up. “The Steelers need him to compliment Big Ben. This could be his final year. They’re going to challenge the Browns and the Ravens. I think the Browns get to the SuperBowl for the first time in their history whatever happens … but I think Najee Harris ends up being Rookie of the Year, and if he is, they blow that gap and challenge the Browns and Ravens.”
And while Harris’ skills running and catching the ball are evident, Harris spoke about one of the more underestimated techniques needed to be a complete running back in the league – pass blocking.
“In the league, it has come a long way,” Harris said. “I’m always the first one to go in there. I love a challenge, especially with our linebackers. We’ve got a lot of good ones. So, the best way to get a lot of reps in practice against these good guys that I’m going against, it’s the best practice that I could have. When I’m in a game, it wouldn’t be anything new to me. I think I improved a lot.
“I mean, I don’t know if teams are gonna blitz against Ben, but if they do, I’m gonna be ready. We always start our meeting with me and Coach Faulk with all the pass protections. Any time I see anything that the Lions did — they blitzed a lot last week — any time I see any looks, I will know what’s up so I can pick it up. I’m improving a lot, but obviously you can get better with pass blocking. Because if you’re gonna go up against these D-linemen, that’s a different ballgame right there my boy.”
And if we listen to head coach, Mike Tomlin, it is easy to see that Harris has made a profound impact on not only him but the rest of the team as well, entering his rookie campaign.
“He’s all business, he’s all business,” Tomlin said on NFL Network. “Whether it’s in the classroom or working on skill development with his coach, he’s all business when it comes to competition. He lights up in the football-like drills that we present to him, whether it’s blitz pickup, whether it’s routes versus linebackers, and so forth for safeties. He embraces all of it and that’s a good thing to see man. It’s a good sign, we got a guy that comes in that’s in top-flight conditioning and as a competitor as well.”