The Steelers went from winning their first 11 games to open last season to losing five of their final six games to flame out of the playoffs in the opening round. Pittsburgh’s loss in the Wild Card Round came at the hands of the Browns, their hated rival, who were making their first playoff appearance since 2002. The Steelers fell behind by an NFL-playoff record 28-0 deficit in the first quarter while Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions in the embarrassing 48-37 loss to the Browns. Pittsburgh significantly raised expectations with their perfect start through November, and it still had a successful season overall despite its disappointing ending. They finished with a 12-4 record (10-6) and they reached the playoffs (-155) and won the AFC North (+300) for the first time since 2017.
The Steelers allowed the third-fewest points per game (19.5) while scoring the 12th-most points per game, which resulted in a 7-7-2 totals mark. Pittsburgh finished 7-2 in one-score contests and a perfect 3-0 in games decided by three scores or more, which helped them to finish with the seventh-best point differential (+104).
Pittsburgh’s 2021 win total (8.5) fell by half a victory after its disappointing finish to last season and getting ravaged by departures this off-season. The Steelers cruised past their 2020 win total by three victories and they passed their total with their 10th consecutive victory to start the season in a victory over the Jaguars in Week 11. Entering this season, I have the Steelers power rated as the 16th-best team in the NFL (+4500 to win Super Bowl LVI), as the ninth-best team in the AFC (+2500 to win the conference), and as the third-best team in the AFC North (+450).
Spreads are first-look lines from the SuperBook, which were released in early June.
|2||Las Vegas Raiders||-5.5||1|
|4||@Green Bay Packers||+2.5||4:25|
|9||Chicago Bears||-5.5||8:15 (Mon)|
|11||@Los Angeles Chargers||+2.5||8:20|
|14||@Minnesota Vikings||+2.5||8:20 (Thurs)|
|16||@Kansas City Chiefs||+8.5||4:25|
|17||Cleveland Browns||PK||8:15 (Mon)|
The Steelers didn’t get many favors when it comes to their 2021 schedule. Pittsburgh has a chance to get its season off on the right foot with home matchups against the Raiders and Bengals in Weeks 2-3, which highlights a five-week stretch with just one road game in Weeks 2-7. The Steelers face just one opponent who will be coming off of a bye when they take on the Lions in Week 10. One of the few things working in Pittsburgh’s favor is a relatively light travel schedule thanks to road matchups with the Green Bay, Minnesota, Buffalo, and Kansas City in their extra games.
The Steelers will face the second-toughest schedule this season based on 2021 win totals (per Sharp Football), which is headlined by their absolute gauntlet to end the season. They face six consecutive opponents in Weeks 13-18 that are lined at 9+ wins, including the Ravens (x2), Vikings, Titans, Chiefs, and Browns. The NFL also did them no favors by giving them five primetime games, which created two short-week road games for them against the Bengals in Week 12 and the Vikings in Week 14. They also won’t gain much of an advantage off of their bye in Week 8 since the Browns will get 10 days of rest off of a TNF contest in Week 7. Add it all up and the Steelers were one of the biggest losers when it comes to the 2021 schedule.
Key Off-season Moves
|Kalen Ballage (RB)||Najee Harris (RB)||James Conner (RB)|
|B.J. Finney (C)||Pat Freiermuth (TE)||Vance McDonald (TE, retired)|
|Joe Haeg (OT)||Kendrick Green (C)||Matt Feiler (OT, LAC)|
|Melvin Ingram (OLB)||Dan Moore (OT)||Alejandro Villanueva (OT)|
|Trai Turner (OG)||Buddy Johnson (LB)||Maurkice Pouncey (C, retired)|
|Bud Dupree (OLB, Ten)|
|Mike Hilton (CB, Cin)|
|Vince Williams (LB, retired)|
|Steven Nelson (CB, Phi)|
|David DeCastro (OG)|
2021 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||8.5 (+115/-135)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 8.5 (-125) in late March to 8.5 (+115)
Super Bowl: +3000 in early February to +4500
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
There’s been a sense of doom and gloom about the Steelers this off-season from outside of Pittsburgh, but they still have a fairly loaded roster and it’s an organization with a coach in Mike Tomlin that has a long track record of success. Tomlin is now 9-5 toward the overs on win totals in his 14-year run as coach after the Steelers surprised most by winning the AFC North in 2020.
The Steelers have also never finished under .500 in Ben Roethlisberger’s 17-year career and the last time the organization had a losing record was in 2003, which enabled them to draft Big Ben. In total, Pittsburgh has finished under .500 just once in the last 21 years since the turn of the century. Obviously, an over bet this season is a bet that Tomlin and Roethlisberger will extend their .500 or better streak to 18 straight years.
Roethlisberger still has one of the league’s best young WR trios in Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers weren’t exactly looking to the future when they drafted a win-now prospect like Najee Harris in the first round, who was a pro-ready selection at No. 24 overall. The Steelers are prepared to give him a massive workload right out of the gates, and they promoted Matt Canada to OC to fix this broken rushing attack after they averaged a miserable 59.9 rushing yards per game in their final 12 contests (playoffs included). They’ll also be getting LB Devin Bush (ACL) to help their defense, who was sorely missed in the middle of the field after a number of injuries at inside linebacker last season.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
The Steelers faded hard in the final month of the 2020 regular season before allowing 48 points in an embarrassing loss to the rival Browns in the Wild Card Round. The betting public is continuing to fade Pittsburgh this off-season as their win total opened at 8.5 (-125) in late March and it’s been bet down to ___. Pittsburgh saw the Browns and Ravens crush the draft this year, and its two rivals have distanced themselves a bit from the bottom half of the AFC North. The Steelers are going to have an uphill battle repeating as the AFC North champions and it doesn’t help that they’ll play one of the league’s toughest schedules.
Pittsburgh suffered some big losses in free agency on defense with OLB Bud Dupree, slot CB Mike Hilton, and CB Steven Nelson all leaving town. The Steelers should still have one of the league’s best defenses but the unit will be a little more top-heavy than they’ve been in recent seasons. They also lost OG Matt Feiler and OT Ali Villanueva and they failed to address its glaring weaknesses along the offensive line in the first two rounds of the draft. Pittsburgh’s decision-makers are much more optimistic about its young and unproven O-line options than the rest of the public.
The group will need to play much better than they did at the end of last year, especially with Roethlisberger showing his age last season. Big Ben needs to get back to his pre-surgery level of play after he averaged career-lows in YPA (6.3) and in depth of target (7.4). There’s hope in Pittsburgh that Roethlisberger’s reconstructed elbow will be much stronger with another year removed from surgery. Pittsburgh’s offense became way too predictable with its short-passing attack and they needed to get back to stretching the field with their capable receivers.
Notable Player Props
Ben Roethlisberger: passing yards (3900.5), passing TDs (27.5), MVP (+8000), most passing yards (+5000), most INTs (+1200)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (3985), passing TDs (30), INTs (8)
Best-Case Scenario: A new-look Steelers’ offense under OC Matt Canada breathes some life into the 39-year-old quarterback and he gets back to attacking downfield with one of the league’s best receiving corps.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Big Ben’s arm strength is still missing in action after averaging an ugly 6.9 yards on the depth of his targets last season, which is the end of the run for the future Hall-of-Fame QB.
Najee Harris: rushing yards (990.5), rushing TDs (7.5), OROY (+800), most rushing yards (+2800)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (1045), rushing TDs (10)
Best-Case Scenario: Harris immediately jumps to the top of Pittsburgh’s running back depth chart, and Mike Tomlin has himself a new bell-cow back as Harris dominates the work in this backfield as a rookie.
Worst-Case-Scenario: The Steelers averaged a miserable 59.9 rushing yards per game in their final 12 contests (playoffs included) last season, and their O-line remains one of the league’s worst after losing Ali Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro in the off-season.
Diontae Johnson: receiving yards (975.5), receiving TDs (6.5), receptions (83.5), most receiving yards (+4000)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (1035), receiving TDs (7), receptions (82)
Best-Case Scenario: Pittsburgh’s passing game continues to run through the X-receiver Diontae, and Ben Roethlisberger’s improved arm strength gives him more opportunities in the intermediate areas of the field.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Pittsburgh’s passing volume dips with Najee Harris added to the offense while Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster cut into Diontae’s 24% target share from last season.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: receiving yards (790.5), receiving TDs (6), receptions (80.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (705), receiving TDs (6), receptions (77)
Best-Case Scenario: JuJu plays more on the perimeter after requesting to move out of the slot more in the off-season, and he gets more intermediate throws to lift his lowly 8.6 YPR from last season.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Roethlisberger’s arm strength is still missing in 2021 and JuJu continues to see low-leverage targets after averaging 5.5 yards on his depth of targets last season.
Chase Claypool: receiving yards (895.5), receiving TDs (6.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (880), receiving TDs (7.5)
Best-Case Scenario: Claypool continues to dominate after scoring a rookie-best 11 TDs last season, and his production gets even better as a full-time player after playing just 63% of the snaps as a rookie.
Worst-Case-Scenario: OC Matt Canada continues to work James Washington into the mix as a situational deep threat and Claypool is hurt the most by a dip in the overall passing volume in the offense.
Eric Ebron: receiving yards (500.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (535)
- Best-Case Scenario: Even with an offensive coordinator change, the Steelers remain one of the most pass-heavy teams and Roethlisberger keeps Ebron involved most weeks.
- Worst-Case-Scenario: The Steelers drafted the future of their TE position by selecting Pat Freiermuth in the second round, and he makes an immediate impact and cuts into Ebron’s target share as a rookie.
Najee Harris to win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year (+1500, FanDuel, mid-May). Risk half a unit to win 7.5 units
Najee Harris over 915.5 rushing yards (-110, FOXBet, mid-May). Risk one unit to win .91 units
Harris has quickly been pegged for a massive role in this offense, which isn’t surprising given the draft capital the Steelers used on him and the below-average options (Anthony McFarland, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage) they have behind him. HC Mike Tomlin has historically preferred to use a bell-cow back so Harris has a path to 20+ touches per game especially since the Steelers have been focused on getting their rushing attack back on track. Harris’ offense line is the big question mark coming into the season but his projected volume is enough for me to make this bet.
Pittsburgh Steelers over 8.5 wins (+115, DraftKings) — The Steelers have never finished with a losing record during Ben Roethlisberger’s 17-year run in Pittsburgh but the odds are against them this year with the money heading toward under 8.5 wins. This is also the first time the odds have been on the Steelers to finish with a losing record since they were lined to win 7.5 games during Big Ben’s rookie season in 2004 and Pittsburgh went on to win 15 games. The Steelers won’t be eclipsing their win total by 7.5 wins this time around, but I’d be careful betting against an organization that’s in the playoff mix every year under Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin. There are good reasons why the Steelers are expected to finish under .500 for the first time since 2003, mainly because of their offensive line woes but they have defensive depth issues too. There are also questions if Big Ben has anything left in the tank after the way the offense sputtered in the final weeks of the last season. As I wrote in New Orleans’ preview, the Steelers and Saints are two of the toughest teams to handicap since they both have a wide range of outcomes. I could see both teams going 11-6 and contending for division titles or I could see both teams bottoming out a bit and going 6-11. If I had to make a wager, I’d take the plus price with the over and bet on Pittsburgh’s talent and continuity.