By Brentley Weissman
The saying goes in the NFL that there is no easy win. Having worked in the league and knowing the amount of work that goes into preparing for a team each and every Sunday, I truly believe that there is no gimme opponent. Each team is comprised of NFL players and NFL coaches, and while yes, some teams may be less talented than others, this isn’t the SEC versus the Mountain West. On any given Sunday a team that by all accounts is superior to their opponent can lose, and that’s what makes the NFL so great.
So far in 2020, only one team has managed to remain undefeated through Week 10: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers currently sit at 9-0 and are on track to win both the AFC North as well as the AFC. Starting a season 9-0 is no small feat, and to be honest we aren’t talking about this Steelers team enough. As a matter of fact, the last team to start 9-0 in a season was the 2015 Carolina Panthers, who would end up finishing 15-1 and losing in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has been fantastic this season and is playing the type of complementary football that the truly great teams are capable of playing.
Offensively, the Steelers have very few holes. Ben Roethlisberger has been sensational this season after missing almost all of last year with a season-ending elbow injury. Roethlisberger is most likely going to win Comeback Player of the Year and is now firmly in contention for MVP honors. Pittsburgh boasts one of the most talented group of skill players in the league with a trio of star wide receivers in Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and rookie Chase Claypool. Running back James Conner is having a solid year, and their offensive line is one of the best in all of football.
For as impressive the Steelers offense has been, their defense has been even better. The Steelers currently rank third in points per game with just 19 points allowed, first in sacks with 36, and sixth in yards per game with 316. The unit has stars at all three levels of the defense and is led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt. Along with Watt, players like defensive linemen Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have all played at a Pro Bowl level this season.
There is no question that this roster is extremely talented, and head coach Mike Tomlin has his squad playing outstanding team football. As the team gets ready for their home stretch in preparation for the playoffs, we must now begin to ask the question, could this team actually go 16-0?
There have only been two undefeated teams in the modern-day Super Bowl era, the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots. Of course, the Dolphins ended up winning the Super Bowl, completing the quest to perfection, while the Patriots wound up losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. When we begin to consider the probability of this year’s Steelers team going undefeated, we must first look at who the Steelers still have to play. Let’s take a look at the Steelers' remaining schedule, and a quick breakdown of the likelihood of the Steelers winning each game.
Week 11 @ Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
There's not much to say about this matchup. The Steelers should handle business against a Jaguars team that has lost eight straight games. Rookie quarterback Jake Luton will have never seen a defense with the type of team speed the Steelers have, and even if the Jaguars offense can move the ball on the ground, there is just no way they could ever score as much as the Steelers offense will.
Week 12 vs Baltimore Ravens (6-3) [Thanksgiving]
This one is interesting. The Steelers beat this Ravens team back in Week 8, 28-24, and since then the Ravens seem to be regressing. Lamar Jackson is struggling to consistently move the ball through the air, and defensively, the team has been hurt with injuries and COVID. The key in this game for me is Jackson and his ability to move the ball with his legs. If he can expose the lack of speed in the second level of a Steelers defense that is without Devin Bush, the Ravens can score enough points to keep up with this Steelers offense. In the end, however, I believe the Steelers' ability to hit on big plays will be the difference here.
Week 13 vs Washington Football Team (2-7)
This is another game the Steelers should enter as large favorites. While Washington has some nice young players on offense with receiver Terry McLaurin and running back Antonio Gibson, I expect the unit to struggle against this aggressive and athletic Steelers defense. The front seven of the Steelers will give Washington all sorts of issues, and I love the matchup of the Steelers receivers against their defensive backs.
Week 14 at Buffalo Bills (7-3)
OK, here we go. I think if the Steelers are going to lose a game this season, this will be the one. Like the Steelers, the Bills have been playing great complementary football all season long. Quarterback Josh Allen is also in the MVP discussion, and his unique blend of athletic ability and dynamic arm talent makes him so tough for defenses to defend. Receiver Stefon Diggs is also a major mismatch for the Steelers’ secondary, and if he has a big game it could be bad news for Pittsburgh. Defensively, led by corner Tre White, the Bills have a talented enough secondary to match up well on the outside. This would be a statement game for head coach Sean McDermott & Co. and I believe they can pull it off.
Week 15 at Cincinnati Bengals (2-6-1)
The Steelers are just coming off a 36-10 win against the Bengals, in which Pittsburgh dominated from start to finish. While I love Joe Burrow and believe he can keep his squad in most contests, I believe the second game will be much like the first. The Steelers are just a bad matchup for the Bengals, as the Steelers can expose Cincinnati's two biggest weaknesses with ease: their secondary and their offensive line play.
Week 16 vs Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
This is a great matchup between two really good football teams. I’m sure the headline leading up to this game will be the match between fellow 2004 NFL Draft class members Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, but it should be about how potentially the teams with the top two defenses in the NFL are facing off. Indianapolis' defense has been lights out this season, and their front seven is about as good as anyone’s in football. They have the team speed on defense to contain Pittsburgh’s offense, and help limit the amount of explosive plays the Steelers hang their hat on. Where this game, in my opinion, drastically favors the Steelers is the matchup between their defense and Rivers. This is the exact type of defense that Rivers really struggles against. The Steelers are fast and bring pressure from multiple formations. Rivers struggles under pressure and doesn’t have the foot quickness to evade in the pocket. I predict the Steelers being able to force at least two turnovers here, and that will be the difference in this game.
Week 17 at Cleveland Browns (6-3)
The Steelers beat this Browns team badly in Week 6 with a 38-10 win, however, the Browns were without star running back Nick Chubb who returned from injury in Week 10 vs the Texans. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was horrendous in the first game, throwing two costly interceptions. Mayfield struggles in these games, and unfortunately for the Browns, I expect much of the same.
As you can see, I have the Steelers being favored in every game moving forward except when they go on the road in Week 14 against Buffalo. Additionally, the fact that the Steelers are just one game ahead of the 8-1 Kansas City Chiefs in the lead for the AFC is very important because the NFL has added one team into the postseason and now only the No. 1 seed gets a first-round bye. I don’t anticipate the Steelers resting any players as long as the race remains close.
Again, no win in the NFL is ever easy, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Steelers drop a game they should win on paper. Going undefeated isn’t the Steelers' ultimate goal. Winning the Super Bowl is. If this team continues to play the way have thus far, they could possibly do both.