With arguably the best trio of skill-position triplets in the NFL in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown, the Pittsburgh Steelers should have finished higher than tied for 10th in the NFL last season in scoring (24.9 ppg). I thought Big Ben would win his first NFL MVP entering last season. He was good, not great.
That group should be even more dangerous this season if receiver Martavis Bryant can stop acting like a knucklehead off the field and stay clear of the wacky weed. With how good Brown is, it's easy to overlook what Bryant has done in his short career - even shorter than it should be because of drug suspensions. In 10 games as a rookie in 2014, Bryant caught 26 passes for 549 yards and eight TDs. In 11 games the following season, he grabbed 50 passes for 765 yards and six scores. At 6-foot-4, 211, he's a touchdown machine and big-play threat. There's just one receiver since 2014 who has more yards per reception than Bryant (min. 50 catches) and that's DeSean Jackson.
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Bryant was suspended last season because of another positive drug test. He has been conditionally reinstated by the NFL, but he will be under a microscope all summer and the league will re-evaluate his status before the regular season. For example, Bryant can't attend practices or play in preseason games until he has found a treating clinician. So while I wouldn't go counting on Bryant yet to be a 16-game performer in your fantasy leagues or whatnot, he can make a difference.
The Steelers finished 11-5 last season in winning the AFC North title. If you go simply by the early odds for 2017, Pittsburgh will win at least 13 games because it is favored in all but two (no lines for Week 17). The lone underdog game at home is vs. New England, which beat the Steelers twice last year. Pittsburgh was 5-3 on the road last regular season, 5-3 against the spread and 2-6 "over/under." That offense, specifically Big Ben, struggled away from home. The Steelers visit three 2016 playoff teams this year: Kansas City, Detroit and Houston. I project them to finish 4-4 away from home. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 10 at Browns (+9): If you have to open on the road, can you ask for an easier game? Good luck predicting which overwhelmed QB the Browns start here. Pittsburgh has won 24 of the past 27 in this "series." The Steelers visited Cleveland in Week 11 last year on a four-game losing streak and won 24-9 to start a season-ending seven-game winning run. The Pittsburgh defense had eight sacks. Key trend: Steelers 3-1 SU & 2-2 ATS as a 7-point road favorite in series.
Sept. 24 at Bears (+5.5): Pittsburgh should be 2-0 off its home opener vs. Minnesota. So you get Cleveland's lousy QB, then Sam Bradford and now Chicago's Mike Glennon. Not exactly murderer's row. The Steelers need to get off to a good start because the schedule is much tougher down the road. These franchises have split the past 10 meetings overall, with Chicago taking the previous two. Key trend:Steelers 3-2 ATS at NFC North teams.
Oct. 1 at Ravens (+1.5): Even though the Ravens are a bit down right now, this is still one of the NFL's most-heated rivalries. The Steelers have dropped their past four in Baltimore and totaled just 57 points. Last year it was a 21-14 loss in Week 9 out of the bye. The Steelers had just 69 total yards early in the fourth quarter before two garbage touchdowns. Key trend: Steelers have lost their past four as a road favorite in series.
Oct. 15 at Chiefs (-1.5): Pittsburgh off a home matchup vs. Jacksonville. This is the only other game where the Steelers are early dogs. However, I think it's likely they are underdogs at least a few other games by the time the games arrive. This is also the first team Pittsburgh plays that finished with a winning record in 2016. The Steelers won in KC 18-16 in January's wild-card game behind Chris Boswell's NFL playoff record six field goals. Key trend: Steelers 5-5 ATS in past 10 as road dog anywhere of 2.5 points or fewer.
Oct. 29 at Lions (+1.5): Sunday night. Pittsburgh is off a home game vs. Cincinnati in Week 7. This is also before the Steelers' bye week and their first of three dome games on the year. In the past three dome games, Roethlisberger is 61-for-79 passing (77.2 percent) as Pittsburgh's no-huddle offense seems to thrive indoors. The Steelers have won four straight vs. the Lions. Key trend: Steelers 5-5 ATS in past 10 before bye (any location).
Nov. 12 at Colts (+1): Off the Steelers' bye. Roethlisberger has thrown 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past three matchups in this series, all Indy losses. Last year at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 12 it was 28-7 on a Thursday night. Brown caught Big Ben's three TD passes. Key trend: Steelers 0-3 SU & ATS in past three after a bye (any location).
Dec. 4 at Bengals (+1): Monday night game. Pittsburgh off a Sunday night home showdown with Green Bay. The Bengals may have replaced the Ravens' as Pittsburgh's most-hated rival. Paul Brown Stadium is almost Heinz Field East as Pittsburgh has won four straight there including playoffs. It was 24-20 in Week 15 last year behind six Boswell field goals. The Steelers were down 20-6 late in the second quarter. Key trend: Steelers 9-1 SU & 7-1-2 ATS in past 10 as road favorite in series.
Dec. 25 at Houston (+1): Steelers could be flat here having to play on the Christmas holiday for the second year in a row (Baltimore in 2016) and off a Week 15 home matchup vs. the Patriots, which could determine the AFC's top seed. This should be a battle of the Watt brothers: Houston defensive end J.J., the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Pittsburgh first-round pick T.J., a linebacker from Wisconsin. Steelers won last meeting vs. Texans 30-23 in 2014. Key trend: Steelers 4-6 ATS in past 10 at AFC South teams.
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