NFL Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens

This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are going to be the number one beneficiary of being a good team in the worst division in football.  The Steelers have been dominating the AFC North division, winning three of the last four division titles, and reaching the playoffs each of the last four seasons.  This stretch has been led by the Killer B’s which include QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown.  In addition of the trio, the offensive line has been among the best in the league the last couple seasons, which allows Big Ben to extend plays, and Bell to execute his trademark patience at the line of scrimmage before accelerating through a gap in the opponent’s front seven.  The offense should continue to cause problems for defenses around the league with the emergence of WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and promising rookie WR James Washington.

You must take the good with the bad when talking about the Steelers, and the bad usually lies on the defensive side of the ball.  Early on in Big Ben’s career, he was able to lean on the Steelers suffocating defenses that terrorized NFL offensive coordinators around the league.  The Dick LeBeau led units carried the franchise to two Super Bowl victories in 2006 and 2009, when Roethlisberger was making a rookie wages, allowing the front office to stack other positional groups with the extra money not going toward a franchise quarterback.  The organization is now built opposite of that model, and the defense has been the weak link in pursuing another Super Bowl ring in the Big Ben era.

The loss of Pro Bowl LB Ryan Shazier shook the whole franchise, when he was nearly paralyzed on the football field in a week 14 game against division rival Cincinnati Bengals.  Shazier was the glue guy for this defense on and off the field, and you could feel his loss watching the defense throughout the rest of the season, including in the post season where Blake fucking Bortles put up 45 points on the Steeler defense in Pittsburgh.  If that is not rock bottom, good luck this year….

The defensive front, led by DE Cam Heyward and DE Stephon Tuitt, is by far the best positional group on the defensive side of the ball, and will be pivotal in setting the tone each week.  The team has two and a half dependable cornerbacks, and the addition of free agent Morgan Burnett and first round rookie Terrell Edmunds should significantly improve the safety position.  Finding a replacement for Shazier should have been a top priority entering the 2018 offseason, and front office simply ignored it.  This will be an ongoing issue throughout the season, and unless someone can step up, this will be the Achilles heel of the entire roster.

When you look at this Pittsburgh Steelers roster, like most years, you would think they should be in the AFC Championship game every year and competing for a Super Bowl.  This year is no different.  The problem I have, and why I am done falling for the Steelers hype that I have bought into in the past is that the team has a serious issue playing to their opponents’ level, whether it is the Cleveland Browns or New England Patriots.  The Steelers have the potential to go 14-2 every season, but always manage to drop a stupid game or two each season (the Chicago Bears last season).  I believe a lot of that comes from lack of discipline, and that stems from coaching.  Mike Tomlin has been extremely successful as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he strikes me as the kind of guy that acts on emotion rather than instinct.  That is why I think Bill Belichick has had his jock strap the past four years.

This year provides a different look for the Steelers.  Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who Big Ben publicly did not get along with, is now at the circus in Cleveland, and his replacement, Randy Fichtner, looks to add a new spice to the offense.  With Bell likely in his last season in Pittsburgh, and Big Ben getting another year older, the time is now for the Steelers to make that next step and reach the Super Bowl.

Favorite Potential Storyline:  Bell comes back from his holdout, the Steelers run him to the ground for the first couple games of the season, Bell says “fuck this,” barrows Big Ben’s walking boot and finds a way to sit out for portions of the season until the playoffs….

Prediction: 10-6 (1st in AFC North, 4th Seed in AFC Playoffs)

Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson is all I can think about when it comes to the Baltimore Ravens.  The “is Joe Flacco a good starting quarterback” talk has been swirling around Baltimore ever since Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2013.  Five years later, the franchise is finally putting the pressure on their signal caller, drafting Jackson with the last pick of the first round in the 2018 NFL draft.  Word out of training camp is that Flacco has been looking great thus far, and he hopes to continue to produce to hold off Jackson for at least a year or two.  Jackson has shown in a small sample size during the preseason that his athleticism that entertained college football fans for the last two seasons will translate to the NFL, but his passing ability has a long way to go if he wants to stick around in this league as a quarterback, and not a running back or wide receiver.

The offense is a random assortment of players, many new to the Ravens organization.  The team introduced three free agent signings at the wide receiver position with Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV, and John Brown.  All these players can be productive but were the odd man out on their former rosters.  This unit should be looking to prove people wrong this season, along with third year WR Breshad Perriman, who is playing for his career in 2018.  The tight end group is four players deep with the additions of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the draft, but four average tight ends does not make one great one, so I am not sure what the strategy there was.  The offensive line fell apart without All Pro guard Marshall Yanda, and the team hopes with his return, Flacco with not be a tackling dummy this season.

Terrell Suggs is an ageless wonder and continues to be the leader of the defense that keeps the team afloat every year.  The team ranked sixth in points per game allowed (18.9) last season, and twelfth in yards per game allowed (325.1) and look to improve upon those numbers in 2018.  The one thing I love about this defense is the experience.  This is a veteran squad that has played a lot of football and knows what is expected of them to push for a playoff spot.  CJ Mosley is a formidable leader in the middle of the defense, with Eric Weddle taking command on the backside.  The Ravens have been a top ten defense for the past decade, and I do not see that changing in 2018.

The Ravens have a lot of veteran presence in this locker room, but in my eyes, there is no one who moves the needle for me to think they will make any sort of buzz this season.  The team will benefit from playing both Bengals and Browns twice this season, and will win a few more games, but experience can only get you so far.  Elite talent wins you games in this league, and when your only guy that fits that classification is the right guard, I have a hard time believing this team will make it over .500.

Favorite Potential Storyline:  If the Ravens are committed to Joe Flacco for the season, I would love to see offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (great football guy name) make a package to incorporate Jackson in open space and let him break some ankles.  Otherwise, this is going to be a horrible NFL Sunday Ticket team to watch each week.

Prediction: 7-9 (2nd in AFC North)

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