This just may be the last hurrah for longtime Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who has been making noises that he wants to retire.
With that being said, Pittsburgh needs to finally figure out a way to beat the Patriots or their coming entrapment in NFL purgatory won’t begin after a happy ending.
The “Big Ben” era has been very good for Steeler Nation as Roethlisberger has surpassed the legendary Terry Bradshaw in every major category save one – Super Bowl rings.
Bradshaw has four, thanks to his luck to have been backstopped by one of the greatest defenses of all time but somehow, Big Ben’s career seems to ring hollow with only two.
Perhaps it is all of the playoff losses, none more crushing than last season’s AFC Championship game where the Steelers laid a gigantic egg in Gillette Stadium and were bitch-smacked by Tom Brady and the Patriots in a 36-17 decision that wasn’t within 50 points of how badly that Pittsburgh was dominated.
It was yet another playoff failure for head coach Mike Tomlin who will never be confused with either Chuck Noll or Bill Cower in the pantheon of great Steelers coaches.
Despite the disappointment, Roethlisberger is back for what may be his grand finale. He currently ranks as tenth on the all-time NFL passing leaders list and a normal season would have him moving up to five, it would be a good way to go out on top if they team could rally around him.
One of the reasons why the Steelers have been unable to finish is their physically and emotionally fragile star running back Le’Veon Bell. The guy may be a freaking phenom on the field but seems to have three big problems: suspension, injury and contract demands.
The second was a killer in the AFC Championship as Bell went down early and with him went any hope of controlling the ball and keeping Tom Brady on the sidelines.
As of today, Bell is healthy again but he is demanding more money – he wants to be the highest paid running back in the NFL despite his unreliable history and is holding out. Not a good omen for the Steelers considering a guy who they really need if they are to make a run this year.
Pittsburgh’s passing game should once again be a strength. Superstar Antonio Bryant will once again serve as Roethlisberger’s top target and as things sit now, the troubled but talented Martavis Bryant from a drug suspension will be back.
This would give the Steelers a killer downfield game if the offensive line is able to keep him healthy. Due to his style, there are few NFL quarterbacks who have consistently taken the pounding that Big Ben has. It is no wonder that he is thinking of retiring while he is still able to function.
The defense has always been the key to this team – at least since the legendary “Steel Curtain” and while Mean Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, and the rest are long retired, the Steelers finished a respectable 12th in total NFL team defense in 2016.
Unfortunately, that defense was cut to pieces in the title game as Brady had his will with them. A porous secondary, lousy coaching and a non-existent pass rush were all culprits.
To address the later, the Steelers drafted the little brother of Houston Texans terror J.J. Watt who has the family pedigree but no guarantee that he can live up to the legend.
Other than the addition of Watt, the Steelers are pretty much standing pat on defense this year.
So, what does it all mean?
Considering that the only other teams that can possibly contend with New England – the Denver Broncos – have one of the worst quarterbacking tandems in the NFL and the Oakland Raiders who are still young and inexperienced, the Steelers are easily the second-best team and depending on Bell, an early favorite to return to the AFC Championship.
Unless Father Time suddenly comes calling for Tom Brady, the BEST that the Steelers can hope for is sucking hind tit in the AFC again this year.