The 2021 season was a strange one for the Pittsburgh Steelers because they did go 9-7-1 and sneaked into the playoffs, only to be trounced in the Wild Card round by the Kansas City Chiefs – but they never really felt like a true contender. Plus, the specter of franchise cornerstone quarterback Ben Roethlisberger potentially retiring, which he ended up doing, loomed large over the team. Now, that Roethlisberger is gone and there is an open competition for his replacement under center, Pittsburgh’s present and future are both up in the air. That uncertainty is reflected in the Pittsburgh Steelers betting odds.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ stats from a year ago, on their surface, don’t necessarily look like those of a team that made the playoffs. They were 21st in scoring offense and 20th in scoring defense while also finishing in the bottom third of the NFL in offensive and defensive yardage, respectively. So, it could be said that Pittsburgh may have benefited from a fair bit of luck on both sides of the ball.
Considering how good the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals are and how the Baltimore Ravens should be improved, the Steelers could have a rough year in a tough division with a new quarterback.
Can Pickett Beat Out Trubisky?
Pittsburgh, for the first time in nearly 20 years, has a crowded quarterback room with fairly open competition. The Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky to a fairly lucrative two-year deal in free agency but they also drafted Kenny Pickett out of Pitt with the 20th pick in the 1st round. Mason Rudolph is also still around but it’s likely that he slots in as the third-stringer, at least to begin the season.
Regardless of who Mike Tomlin picks to be his starter for Week 1, the Steelers are likely to face significant growing pains even with how physically limited Ben Roethlisberger was down the stretch of his career.
Trubisky has been less-than-impressive when he has been given the reins of an offense before so there is significant concern about how he can lead a Pittsburgh team that was somewhat pedestrian on that side of the ball in 2021.
There’s a reason the Pittsburgh Steelers betting odds had them as +300 underdogs to make the playoffs back in April with their chances slightly improving to +275 as it becomes more likely the Cleveland Browns won’t have Deshaun Watson for a good chunk of the year. It’s always tough for teams to go from reliable play under center to questionable play there, especially after so many years with such a stalwart at that position.
Wide Receiver Group Looks Different
James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster are out and George Pickens, Miles Boykin, and Calvin Austin III are in. The Steelers revamped their wide receiver room a bit over the offseason, letting Washington sign with the Dallas Cowboys and Smith-Schuster head to Kansas City while drafting both Pickens and Austin. Washington’s role did lessen in 2021 as Johnson jumped into stardom and Claypool continued producing at a high level, all with Smith-Schuster mostly sidelined due to injury.
Unfortunately, their collective emergence only resulted in the NFL’s 15th-best passing offense by yardage. If Pittsburgh is going to overcome having a mediocre defense and up-and-down quarterback, Johnson and Claypool will need to dominate.
As for the running game, Najee Harris remains the bell-cow back for Pittsburgh as he looks to follow up a very impressive rookie campaign in which he rushed for 1,200 yards.
The Steelers have to figure a way to diversify their ground game, though, as No. 2 back Benny Snell only rushed for 98 yards and Pittsburgh was 29th in rushing yards, 28th in rushing touchdowns, 29th in yards per attempt, and 28th in carries.
It’s clear that the Steelers abandoned the run game for big pockets in time in 2021 which just won’t be doable again. Harris needs the change-of-pace that Snell provides and Pittsburgh has to use them both more effectively.
Tough Division Doesn’t Help
If you are betting on NFL teams, you likely know that the NFC North is usually one of the best divisions in the league. Of course, that can change based on the season but, for 2022, it should be true.
The Bengals almost won the Super Bowl, the Ravens have one of football’s most unstoppable players and, on paper, the Browns are loaded with talent. That leaves Pittsburgh as a possible “last man out” in terms of the division. It’s going to be tough for the Steelers to compete for a playoff spot with their schedule. They’re +750 to win the division, with good reason, and have a low over/under of 7.5 wins.
Also, Pittsburgh has some questions on defense it needs to clear up. The Steelers were dead-last in rushing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed per attempt in 2021. Their offseason pickups of Larry Ogunjobi and Myles Jack in the front seven should help but they alone can’t fix what was an uncharacteristically vulnerable defensive unit.
The Pittsburgh Steelers betting odds rely heavily on this defense returning to at least the middle-of-the-pack, which would be a significant improvement. With their brutal schedule, don’t expect that to happen. Pittsburgh, at -115 to win seven games or fewer, is very enticing.Follow us on Twitter