Pro Football Focus recently released their NFL power rankings ahead of the 2022 season. Here’s why they think the Steelers are “stuck in limbo.”
If you’ve been evaluating Pittsburgh’s latest chances to win the AFC North this year, it’s no surprise to see where the mainstream media ranked them in their latest NFL power rankings.
Bettors view the Steelers as a far cry from winning the division this year, thanks in large part to the gap at quarterback. With Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson and now Deshaun Watson in the AFC North, Pittsburgh has essentially been written off as a legitimate contender this year.
Recently Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus followed suit. In his last NFL power rankings, he ranked the Steelers as the 21st best team in the league heading into the 2022 season in a category called “Stuck in Limbo.” Here’s what the PFF analyst had to say about the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers:
21. PITTSBURGH STEELS
The Steelers have been perennial contenders for the duration of Ben Roethlisberger’s career. Their quarterback since 2004, Big Ben retired this offseason after never finishing a season with a losing record. Now Pittsburgh must maintain that success with a combination of Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett at quarterback. Either player will massively change which offense had the fastest average time to launch in 2021.
Just above the Steelers in these NFL power rankings are the Raiders, Titans, Patriots, Dolphins and Saints. Worryingly, Pittsburgh was in the same “limbo” group as teams like the Lions, Jets, Giants and Commanders — not exactly the best company.
Although the Steelers were a 9-7-1 team last season that made the playoffs, most NFL analysts write them off before the season even begins. Their reasoning is typically the same: they no longer have a franchise quarterback. But do they give too much credit to Ben Roethlisberger?
How bad is the Steelers QB’s situation?
Big Ben has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks for much of the past two decades, and he’ll soon be a Hall of Famer. However, I think the media gives too much credit to Roethlisberger for the player he has been for the past two seasons.
In 2020 and 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers ended the season with a winning record and made the playoffs not because of Ben Roethlisberger, but despite him. If you could separate player from performance, you’d see that the 38- and 39-year-old quarterback we’ve seen over the past two seasons wasn’t the “Big Ben” we’ve come to expect.
Because of Ben’s reputation as a winner and future Hall of Fame quarterback, I think analysts have overemphasized the real impact of his departure this year. No QB in the league struggled more with passes beyond 10 air yards last year than Ben, and it stands to reason we could actually see some improvement in QB play by the Steelers this year. — though we don’t even know for sure which quarterback will be at the helm.
Looking at the roster as a whole, it’s clear the Steelers have improved (at least on paper). In addition to Roethlisberger’s retirement, Pittsburgh also lost starters like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Joe Haden, Trai Turner and Joe Schobert. However, none of these names were particularly impressive last year, and JuJu missed the majority of the season.
In their place, Pittsburgh has found younger, more talented players to join the team this year like James Daniels, George Pickens, Calvin Austin and Myles Jack in addition to several other players who are sure to have important roles. While that doesn’t guarantee they’ll be any better, I certainly wouldn’t bet on them being any worse.
It’s pretty easy to look at both sides of the ball and see how Pittsburgh could improve in 2022. Regardless of what Ben Linsey and Pro Football Focus have to say, I think there’s a good chance the Steelers be better again. team than most predict.