Steelers hope to bounce back with healthy Ben Roethlisberger

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15: T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Buffalo Bills on December 15, 2019 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15: T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Buffalo Bills on December 15, 2019 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

With Ben Roethlisberger back and a fantastic defense alongside him, the Pittsburgh Steelers have designs on their seventh Super Bowl title.

Best-case scenario

The Steelers are coming off a disappointing season in which they finished 8-8. Fortunately, they won’t have to rely on a lackluster combination of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback.

The return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger should be enough to make Pittsburgh a contender in 2020. Combine that with the only defense in the league to boast three first-team All-Pro players last year, and we are looking at a unit that could go far.

The Steelers best-case scenario in 2020 is finishing 12-4 and owning the tie-breaker over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. This team has the potential to make it to the AFC Championship Game, possibly even the Super Bowl if the chips fall their way.

Worst-case scenario

Obviously, their season hinges on the health of Roethlisberger. If he were to go down early or if his surgically repaired elbow doesn’t hold up, we could be in for another long season.

The defense could also take a step back this year. In 2019, Pittsburgh’s defensive unit led the league with 38 takeaways. Unfortunately, that’s a number nearly impossible to repeat. If this perfect storm strikes against the Steelers in 2020, we could see a football team that finishes 7-9; making this the first losing-record season in the Mike Tomlin era.

Biggest offseason move

Last year, however, they struck gold on cornerback Steven Nelson. This year they are hoping for similar success from their new offensive weapon. Eric Ebron is a player that Mike Tomlin has high hopes for in 2020, and it’s not hard to see why.

Ebron is just two seasons removed from a 750-yard, 13-touchdown performance as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. The athletic tight end doesn’t offer much as a blocker, but he’s a solid route runner with a big catch radius. He should provide a significant boost to an offense that finished 30th in the league in 2019.

Draft pick who makes the big impact

The Steelers were without a first-round draft choice this past April, so this answer may not be so cut-and-dry. While running back Anthony McFarland could provide a boost to Pittsburgh’s offense this year with his rare top-end speed, Chase Claypool should still be the biggest impact rookie for the Steelers in 2020.

With three talented receivers currently ahead of him on the depth chart, Claypool could be looking at a limited role on offense as a rookie. However, the former Notre Dame product was a standout special teams player in college. He will have a large role in coverage teams as a rookie.

Overall expectations

The harsh reality is the Steelers are going to live and die by Roethlisberger in 2020. If the 38-year-old quarterback can stay upright and his elbow stays intact, the Steelers will have a chance to go far this season. If not, another year with an excellent defense will likely be wasted in the hands of Mason Rudolph.

Unfortunately, Big Ben has played just four full seasons in his first 16 years in the league, so odds are stacked against him. However, missing a few games won’t spell the end of the season for Pittsburgh – as long as Roethlisberger is healthy going into the playoffs.

Talent-wise, the Steelers may be without stars on offense, but their depth of young skill players runs deep. If players like Diontae Johnson and James Washington can take another step forward, they can exceed expectations on offense this year.

Defensively, T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Cameron Heyward headline this star-studded group. There’s no reason to believe they can’t be one of the best units again in 2020.

Overall, expect Pittsburgh to have an above-average offense with a top-six defense. They reach the playoffs as a wild card team at 9-7.