The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Only four teams remain before Thursday’s season opener. At No. 4 on our preseason rankings are the Pittsburgh “Three-Headed Monster” Steelers.
2016 in a nutshell: That three-headed offensive monster — comprised of future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, superstar running back Le’Veon Bell and hugely prolific wide receiver Antonio Brown — dominated down the stretch after being hindered by injuries and suspensions early. Pittsburgh closed the season with seven consecutive victories to take the AFC North, but couldn’t beat the mighty New England Patriots on the road in the playoffs.
What’s different: All three are healthy right now, and although Bell is coming back from a lengthy holdout, at least he isn’t facing an early-season suspension this year.
Why they could be awesome: Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown. And an underrated defense has added enticing rookie T.J. Watt as well as talented cornerback Joe Haden.
Why they could suck: Roethlisberger is old, Bell hasn’t been overly reliable and Brown can’t do it all on his own. Plus, that underrated defense still isn’t what it used to be.
— SteelCityUnderground (@steelcityundrgr) August 19, 2017
Major additions: Watt and Haden.
Major losses: Veteran defenders Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jone,s as well as receiver Markus Wheaton.
Breakout watch: Two young linebackers — 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier and 2015 first-rounder Bud Dupree — will be expected to take another step alongside Watt, Vince Williams and James Harrison.
Position to watch: The Steelers continue to lack stability beyond Brown at the receiver position. Martavis Bryant has the ability to become a top-notch starter, but he has repeatedly violated the league’s substance abuse policy and is a guy you’d rather not rely on.
Beyond that, it’ll be interesting to see who emerges among a group that includes occasional 2016 starter Eli Rogers, former top-10 pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, potential deep threat Justin Hunter and rookie second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Prediction: If the big three remain healthy and productive, the Steelers will contend right to the end. If they don’t, Pittsburgh likely won’t make the playoffs. I get the feeling they’ll be there all year.
12-4, 1st place in the AFC North