The Pittsburgh Steelers failed to reach the postseason as a result of the 2018-19 season while it appeared as though the heralded AFC North franchise was simply dealing with too much away from the gridiron to concentrate on making a legitimate Super Bowl push. In the absence of the Steelers, who seem to reach the postseason every year, the arch rival Baltimore Ravens not only reached the playoffs but captured an AFC North title in the process.
Since that time, there have been major changes in Pittsburgh as the Steelers begin to look ahead to the upcoming 2019-20 campaign. With that in mind, the rest of the AFC North — namely the typically dismal Cleveland Browns — have been getting better as well, which could prove costly for the Steelers come next season.
However, with a veteran head coach, Super Bowl-winning quarterback and up-and-coming star still leading the way in Pittsburgh, it remains possible that the Steelers will come away as the AFC North Champions in 2019-20.
Here are three reasons the Steelers will end up winning the AFC North division title.
3. “Big Ben” remains under center
It is certainly no secret that longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't getting any younger at this point in his NFL career. Even so, “Big Ben” remains a formidable presence under center while the former first round NFL Draft pick has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles and three total Super Bowl appearances over the years.
Because Roethlisberger is an experienced signal caller, he has the ability to lead a young Steelers team back to the postseason by way of an AFC North title.
However, Roethlisberger must remain healthy in order to properly perform on the field going forward. As previously explained, “Big Ben” isn't getting any younger while the longtime quarterback has also encountered his fair share of significant injuries over the years despite playing through them most of the time. Nonetheless, Roethlisberger won't be able to play forever so his health should remain at the forefront of the Steelers' storylines as the 2019 season rolls on.
Although Roethlisberger is still leading the way, he will have to help his younger and more inexperienced teammates play at his level if the Steelers are going to finish atop the division next season.
2. JuJu Smith-Schuster ready to breakout with Antonio Brown in Oakland
In case you have been living under a rock for the better part of the last several months, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is now a member of the Oakland Raiders. Because the Steelers traded away the prolific pass catcher en route to shipping Brown across the country, fellow wide out JuJu Smith-Schuster will now serve as the No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh.
Although Smith-Schuster has impressed since breaking into the league several years ago, the time has finally come for the former USC Trojans standout to take over as Ben Roethlisberger's primary target.
Over the course of his first two NFL seasons, the soon-to-be third-year wide out has appeared in 30 regular season games while catching 169 passes for 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns. Scoring seven touchdowns in each of his first two seasons atop the highest level, the 22-year-old notably posted a single-season career-high 111 receptions and 1,426 receiving yards in 2018-19.
Smith-Schuster, who was originally selected by the Steelers in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of USC, has proven that he can be the workhorse of the team's receiving corps while producing 246 targets as an NFL pass catcher with a whopping 166 coming last season.
1. Addition by subtraction with Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell officially elsewhere
The Pittsburgh Steelers are down two very talented players. However, the Steelers are also down two major headaches with wide receiver Antonio Brown with the Oakland Raiders and running back Le'Veon Bell with the New York Jets. While the Steelers traded away Brown after the prolific pass catcher requested the team do so, Bell signed with the Jets as a free agent after sitting out for the entirety of last season due to a lengthy contract dispute with the Steelers.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster ready to step in for Brown, the Steelers also have running back James Conner to step in for Bell. In addition to Smith-Schuster's production from a season ago, Conner broke out in a big way while unexpectedly rushing for just under 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first season as the team's starting running back.
Not only will these two be able to continue their success on the field going forward, but the Steelers as a whole won't have to worry about either causing problems off the field, which will ideally allow the entire roster to focus solely on football in 2019-20.