Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Adam Burke: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have never had a losing record under head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin, who took over in 2007 and won a Super Bowl in just his second season at the helm, has navigated this roster through a rebuild on the fly and the Steelers look like a threat again in the loaded AFC North. While the floor is high, the ceiling might be low, and the team’s playoff hopes may simply rest on the shoulders of quarterback Kenny Pickett.
The Steelers were 7-5 in Pickett’s 12 starts last year. He only threw two interceptions over his final nine starts, though he only threw for 1,633 yards and five touchdown passes. Still, he took care of the ball, and the team finished on a four-game winning streak, with three of those victories in his starts.
While the .500 or better streak remained intact, the Steelers did only amass 4.9 yards per play, were outgained by 0.6 yards per play, and outscored by 38 points with a low-output offense that only scored a touchdown on 51.9% of red-zone trips. Only four teams had fewer yards per play and three of them picked in the top five of the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had a solid rush attack with Najee Harris and Pickett’s contributions, but the passing offense left a lot to be desired, and that is the focus for this season.
Defensively, the Steelers were a bottom-10 unit by EPA/play, as they struggled mightily against the pass. They gave up 29 touchdown passes, which was tied for the second-most in the league, and 12.2 yards per reception, which ranked 31st. It was a boom-or-bust defense in some respects that tied for the league lead in interceptions with 20, but there was a whole lot of bad sprinkled among the good.
Patrick Peterson and second-round pick Joey Porter Jr. come in to provide some aid to the beleaguered secondary and the pass rush should benefit from more of T.J. Watt, who was limited to 10 games and 5.5 sacks. After the bye week, the Steelers went 7-2 and allowed more than 17 points just once with a +8 turnover margin.
On paper, the Steelers are the fourth-best team in the AFC North and their season win total of 8.5 with Over juice does seem to be indicative of the team’s reputation. They simply find ways to win, and they’ve avoided a losing season despite a negative point differential in three of the last four years. The bye week comes very early this season (Week 5), and ongoing questions about Pickett are hard to ignore. I believe the streak stops here and this team stays Under 8.5 wins.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: When we fail to recognize facts, it can be due to various reasons. One common reason is that people can become too emotionally invested in their own beliefs, which can cloud their judgment. They may want to be "right" and cling to their opinions even when faced with contradicting evidence. Additionally, some individuals may mistakenly believe that their opinions are facts and fail to understand the difference between the two. The fact is simple: Mike Tomlin isn’t going to have a losing season. Not last year, not next year, not ever. He wins, and winning nine games with his 2022 was Coach of the Year worthy.
By the end of last season, the Steelers were playing their best football, dominating on defense, effectively playing well on offense, and protecting the ball. When Kenny Pickett protected the football, took the profits in the offense, and didn’t force the ball into tight windows, the Steelers found ways to win seven of their last nine games. This summer, they have looked like a Super Bowl contender. I am not sold on the Steelers being an elite Super Bowl team, but I am sold on them being a good team — as good as anyone in the AFC North. And being good in the North has led to a team being in the AFC Conference Championship game two years in a row. The fact is Tomlin and the Steelers are very good. Don’t deny it.
Player to Watch: QB Kenny Pickett
In 2022, Pickett threw just 30.4% of his pass attempts 10+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Throughout training camp and the preseason, Pickett’s willingness to go deep has been well-documented, with several of those deep attempts for George Pickens going viral on social media. The limited action we’ve seen in the preseason has generally matched that narrative, with 46.6% of attempts going for 10+ air yards. The deep ball might just be the thing that gives this offense some explosion, with a slew of weapons at the ready, including WRs Diontae Johnson and Pickens, as well as TE Pat Freiermuth, leading the pack. Even if it is “just the preseason,” Pickett has led all quarterbacks with five or more pass attempts with 13.3 yards per attempt, throwing for 158.3 passer rating with a 10.6 aDOT. - Kate Magdziuk, Behind the Steel Curtain (@katemagdziuk)
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