Is this the season when we finally see what that high-powered Steelers offense can do with star running back Le'Veon Bell healthy for the playoffs?
In 2014, Bell was hurt in Week 17 and missed Pittsburgh's home wild-card game against hated rival Baltimore. Bell's absence was very clear as the Steelers lost 30-17. Last year, Bell was lost around midseason to injury, but Pittsburgh was able to back into the playoffs as a wild-card team with a 10-6 record, winning a tiebreaker against the Jets. DeAngelo Williams had done a fantastic job filling in for Bell, but he's no Bell. The Steelers were able to pull out an 18-16 wild-card upset in Cincinnati thanks to two incredibly stupid late defensive penalties on the Bengals. They led to Chris Boswell's winning a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining. However, the Steelers really needed Bell the next week against Denver's top-ranked defense as they lost 23-16. Pittsburgh did lead 13-12 with less than five minutes left.
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Alas, we won't see the Pittsburgh offense at 100 percent this year, either. That's because No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant has been suspended the entire season. Guy is a knucklehead because he also failed a drug test previously and was suspended the first four games of last year. He still had a big year, hauling in 50 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games. Bryant will be missed, but the Steelers are fairly deep in receivers and also added free-agent tight end Ladarius Green to catch some passes from Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers were 4-4 on the road, 5-3 against the spread and 2-6 "over/under." They play only two away teams from last season that made the playoffs, which is tied for the fewest on the handful I've done on these so far. But that's misleading. For example, I think the Ravens and Colts will be playoff-caliber this season after both missing out in 2015 because of injuries. The Pittsburgh home schedule is unquestionably harder -- the two toughest non-division opponents visit Heinz Field. I could see a 6-2 road mark for Pittsburgh. Not a single game west of the Mississippi for the Steelers, which is nice for them. They have a wins total of 10.5, with the over a -120 favorite. Odds listed below for home team.
Sept. 12 at Redskins (+3, 50.5): This is the first of two Monday night games in Week 1. Washington is one of those two playoff teams as the reigning NFC East champion. I also don't see the Skins getting back there. Pittsburgh has won five straight in the series, last in 2012 against Washington rookie QB Robert Griffin III (now with Browns). Key trend: Steelers 4-6 ATS in past 10 as September road favorite of at least 3 points.
Sept. 25 at Eagles (+3): Pittsburgh is off a Week 2 home game vs. Cincinnati. Philadelphia is on a short week as it visits Chicago on Monday in Week 2. State bragging rights on the line here, obviously. The teams also play in Week 2 of the exhibition season, so don't expect to see anything of value from either side there. The Steelers have lost eight straight in Philly. Key trend: Steelers have failed to cover their past three in Philly.
Oct. 16 at Dolphins (+3.5): Pittsburgh hosts the Jets in Week 5. Miami hosts Tennessee the previous Sunday. Pittsburgh had a five-game winning streak snapped against Miami in a 34-28 home loss on a snowy day in December 2013. Pittsburgh has won its past three in South Florida. Key trend: Steelers 6-4 ATS in past 10 at Miami.
Nov. 6 at Ravens (-2.5): This is after Pittsburgh's bye week and Baltimore's. So I guess that's fair. The Steelers lost a third straight in Baltimore in Week 16 last season, 20-17. That almost killed Pittsburgh's playoff chances, and it didn't come against Joe Flacco but Ryan Mallett. Roethlisberger went 23 for 33 for 227 yards with two interceptions. Williams rushed for 100 yards and two scores. Key trend: Steelers 4-6 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Nov. 20 at Browns (+8.5): Pittsburgh off a Week 10 home game vs. Dallas. Could it be caught looking ahead to the Colts game? Cleveland will have extra time to prepare as it is in Baltimore on Thursday in Week 10. The Steelers got into the playoffs with a 28-12 win in Cleveland in Week 17 last year and a Jets loss in Buffalo. Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three scores, with Antonio Brown catching 13 passes for 187 yards and a TD. The Steelers had seven sacks and forced four turnovers. Roethlisberger is 20-2 career against Cleveland. Key trend: Steelers 1-2 ATS in past three trips to Cleveland as at least a 7-point favorite.
Nov. 24 at Colts (-1.5): Thanksgiving night game, the eighth in Steelers history on Turkey Day. Indy is home to Tennessee the previous Sunday. Pittsburgh trashed the Colts for a second season in a row in Week 13 last year at Heinz Field, 45-10. Big Ben threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 866 yards and 10 touchdowns -- with no interceptions -- his last two starts against Indianapolis. Brown caught eight passes for 118 yards and two scores and added a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown. Key trend: Steelers 4-6 ATS in past 10 at AFC South teams.
Dec. 11 at Bills (+2): Pittsburgh is home to the Giants the previous Sunday. Buffalo is in Oakland in Week 13. The Steelers have won five in a row against the Bills, the last a 23-10 home victory in November 2013. Key trend: Steelers 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 at AFC East teams.
Dec. 18 at Bengals (pick'em): Sunday night game. At least Steelers get their final two at home (Ravens and Browns). Cincinnati is in Cleveland the previous Sunday. Pittsburgh won 33-20 in Cincinnati in Week 14 last year, roughing up Cincy backup QB A.J. McCarron after Andy Dalton left early with a thumb injury. Williams rushed for two scores for Pittsburgh. This game could be really ugly because the Steelers might want some payback for those dirty plays by Cincinnati in the wild-card game. The main prognosticator in that game, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, was suspended three games for it and thus won't be around in the first meeting early in the season. Key trend: Steelers 8-2 ATS in past 10 regular-season visits to Cincinnati.
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