The Steelers went from dominating opposing offenses with the Killer B’s (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell) in the late 2010s to playing some guy nicknamed Duck at quarterback by the middle of 2019. The Steelers traded Brown to the Raiders and Bell walked to the Jets in free agency before the 2019 season, and Big Ben lasted just six quarters before he needed season-ending elbow surgery. Pittsburgh got off to a disastrous 1-4 start with Roethlisberger leaving the lineup before reeling off a 7-1 streak thanks to Minkah Fitzpatrick’s acquisition. Terrible QB play from Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges eventually caught up to the Steelers as they failed to get one last win in their final three games to reach the playoffs. Pittsburgh finished with an 8-8 overall record and a 9-7 against-the-spread mark, and they missed the playoffs at +145 odds.
Pittsburgh finished 12-4 toward under totals, which was tied with the Bills for the most under totals of the season. The Steelers scored just 18.1 points per game (6th-fewest) while allowing only 18.9 PPG (5th-fewest). Pittsburgh’s games averaged a combined 37.0 PPG so it’s not a surprise they played in 11 one-score games, finishing with a 6-5 — they posted a 1-2 record in games decided by three scores.
Pittsburgh’s 2020 win total held steady at nine wins from last season after they battled to eight wins without Roethlisberger. The Steelers fell below their 2019 win total with their eighth loss of the season in the finale against the Ravens. Pittsburgh has -137 odds to end its two-year playoff drought and to reach the playoffs for the 11th time in Big Ben’s 17th season. Entering the season, I have the Browns power rated as the 10th-best team in the NFL (+2500 to win Super Bowl LV), as the fourth-best team in the AFC (+1200 to win the conference), and as the second-best team in the AFC North (+350).
|Week||Opponent (spread if available)||Time|
|1||@New York Giants (-3.5)||7:15 (Mon)|
|2||Denver Broncos (-5.5)||1|
|3||Houston Texans (-4.5)||1|
|4||@Tennessee Titans (+3)||1|
|5||Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5)||1|
|6||Cleveland Browns (-3.5)||1|
|7||@Baltimore Ravens (+6)||1|
|9||@Dallas Cowboys (+3.5)||4:25|
|10||Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5)||1|
|11||@Jacksonville Jaguars (-6.5)||1|
|12||Baltimore Ravens (+2.5)||8:20 (Thurs)|
|13||Washington Redskins (-8.5)||1|
|14||@Buffalo Bills (+2.5)||8:20 (Sun)|
|15||@Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5)||8:15 (Mon)|
|16||Indianapolis Colts (-2.5)||1|
Key Off-season Moves
Eric Ebron (TE)
Derek Watt (FB)
Stefen Wisniewski (OG)
Chase Claypool (WR)
Chris Wormley (DT)
Javon Hargrave (DT, Phi)
Nick Vannett (TE, Den)
B.J. Finney (OG, Sea)
Artie Burns (CB, Chi)
Mark Barron (S, FA)
2020 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||9 (-121/+100)|
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
The Steelers appeared headed for a disastrous 2019 campaign when they lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season in Week 2. Pittsburgh then traded its 2020 first-round pick for S Minkah Fitzpatrick just one day later in a trade that most considered to be a terrible move at the time because the Steelers looked headed for an early draft pick with Big Ben done for the season. However, Fitzpatrick’s arrival proved to be a catalyst for this defense as they dominated most opposing offenses the rest of the season. Pittsburgh forced the most turnovers (38) and they allowed the fewest yards per play (4.7) and the fifth-fewest points per game (18.9). The Steelers muscled out an 8-8 record despite Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges actively dragging down their offense with a 4.7 YPP average (2nd-fewest) while scoring just 18.1 PPG (6th-fewest).
The Steelers will now get to pair one of the NFL’s best defenses from last season with 2018’s QB3 in fantasy points per game (21.4). Big Ben threw for a league-best 5129 yards and he helped the Steelers to finish fifth in PPG (26.8) in his last complete campaign back in 2018. Roethlisberger won’t have Antonio Brown to throw to this season as he did that season, but he will have a motivated JuJu Smith-Schuster and rising second-year WR Diontae Johnson at his disposal. The Steelers also signed TE Eric Ebron and drafted X-receiver Chase Claypool to give Big Ben two huge targets for the red zone who can also stretch the field with their speed.
The Steelers have a good chance to get off to a strong start this season with three games scheduled against teams with win totals sitting below .500 (@NYG, Den, Hou). They also have five games against four squads that are lined to win six and a half games or fewer this season (Jax, Cin x2, NYG, Was). Pittsburgh’s second-toughest road game will be against the Cowboys after their Week 8 bye, and they also get to host the Ravens on Thanksgiving night with both teams having short weeks to prepare.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
The fate of the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers will rest squarely on Ben Roethlisberger and the health of the 38-year-old QB’s surgically repaired throwing elbow. Big Ben has had one of the league’s strongest arms during his career, but we’ll see if he has the same cannon coming off of surgery. The last thing the Steelers can afford to do is to go back to their young quarterbacks this season. Mason Rudolph, a 2018 third-round pick, wasn’t ready to play as a sophomore last season, and his performance dragged the entire offense down with him. The Steelers averaged the third-fewest yards per game (276.8) last season, which was the second-worst finish in franchise history since the NFL/AFL merger — Bubby Brister and the Steelers finished last in yards per game in 1989.
The health and performance of Big Ben will be paramount toward Pittsburgh’s success (or lack thereof) this season, which means the Steelers offensive line needs to do their part to keep Roethlisberger as clean as possible this season. Pittsburgh’s O-line is still one of the league’s better units — PFF recently ranked them the ninth-best O-line — but four of their potential starters will play this season in their 30s. The Steelers can’t afford a significant drop in O-line play this season with Big Ben getting less mobile and potentially more fragile the older he gets. The last thing Steelers fans want to see is more of Mason Rudolph or Duck Hodges in the lineup in 2020.
The Steelers open with a friendly three-game stretch but their schedule starts to toughen up in Weeks 4-9 (@Ten, Phi, Cle, @Bal, bye, @Dal). Pittsburgh also has to travel for all three of their Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football contests this season. They head to Buffalo in Week 14 for their lone SNF contest, and they open the year against the Giants on MNF before heading to Cincinnati in Week 15 for their final MNF contest.
Notable Player Props
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
Ben Roethlisberger: passing yards (3800.5), passing TDs (25.5), MVP (+4000)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (4165), passing TDs (29)
Best-Case Scenario: Big Ben is back to full strength and he shows off the ceiling he had in his last full season back in 2018 when he finished as the QB3 when he averaged 21.4 FPG.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Big Ben, at 38 years old, doesn’t have the same arm strength and he isn’t the same player coming back from last season’s throwing-elbow surgery.
James Conner: rushing yards (775.5), most rushing yards (+4000), OPOY (+8000)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (900)
- Best-Case Scenario: Conner gets back to his 2018 form when he finished as the RB7 when he averaged 21.5 FPG as he stays healthy and effective as the team’s clear bellcow back.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Conner struggles to distance himself from the likes of Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, and Anthony McFarland after another season with durability issues.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: receiving yards (1100.5), most receiving yards (+2000)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (995)
- Best-Case Scenario: Smith-Schuster gets his career back on track in his fourth season after becoming the youngest player to reach 2500 career receiving yards last season.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Diontae Johnson sees heavy action as Ben Roethlisberger’s new favorite perimeter receiver, and JuJu must contend with Eric Ebron stealing targets in the middle of the field.
Diontae Johnson: receiving yards (775.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (955)
- Best-Case Scenario: A healthy Johnson explodes in his second season with an also healthy Ben Roethlisberger after having a sneaky great rookie season despite playing with terrible QBs.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: Big Ben doesn’t have the same arm strength off of his elbow surgery, and he’s reluctant to throw to his iso-X receiver on the perimeter with his weaker arm.
Best Bets and Leans
The Steelers have to reach double-digit wins to clear their 2020 win total, which must seem like a cakewalk after they battled to win eight games last season with absolutely atrocious quarterback play. Pittsburgh has never finished with a losing record with Ben Roethlisberger on their roster as the franchise has reeled off 16 straight seasons at .500 or better with Big Ben. Pittsburgh has reached nine or more wins 12 times and double-digit wins in 10 of those campaigns. The Steelers may have won eight games last season but the entire division has significantly improved from 2019 after the Ravens walked to the league’s best record in a watered-down AFC North.
The Steelers defense won’t be able to play at their incredible level from last season when they forced a league-high 38 turnovers last season. Just ask the Bears. Chicago couldn’t keep up their league-best pace of 36 turnovers from 2018 when they forced 17 fewer turnovers last season. The good news is that the Steelers offense should play cleaner this season with Big Ben in the lineup after they gave the rock away 30 times (5th-most) last season. If Big Ben is anywhere close to his 2018 form, the Steelers have the potential to have a top-10 offense to pair with one of the league’s best defenses so I’m leaning toward the Steelers to win over nine games.
Diontae Johnson is my highest-owned player in BestBall10s this summer after quietly leading the Steelers in receptions last season. Johnson tied perimeter CBs in knots with his route running last season, creating the most average yards of separation (3.6) in the league (per Next Gen Stats). He also tied for the WR league lead with 18 forced missed tackles (per PFF). Johnson played at a high level as a rookie all while playing through a sports hernia injury and with lousy QB play. Big Ben has never been shy about throwing to his WRs when they’re in one-on-one situations on the perimeter, and I think there’s a great chance he leads the Steelers in receiving this season so I’m betting Diontae Johnson to go over 775.5 receiving yards.
Best Bets: Diontae Johnson over 775.5 receiving yards (-110, DraftKings). Risk two units to win 1.82 units.
Leans: Steelers over nine wins (-110, FanDuel)