Maybe Ben Roethlisberger Wasn’t Bluffing with this Retirement Talk

Admit it, the moment Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hinted at not returning for the 2017 season–his 14th under center–you didn’t buy into it.

I know I didn’t buy it. Like a lot of people, I thought it was just Ben Roethlisberger’s frustrations over how the 2016 campaign, one filled with Super Bowl expectations, played-out, as well as how it ended with a 36-17 thumping at the hands of the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on January 22.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Patriots, Jarvis Green, Jarvis Green sack Roethlisberger

Jarvis Green sacks Ben Roethlisberger in 2015. Photo Credit: Jim Davis, Boston Globe

However, as March inched toward April, Roethlisbereger, even despite few taking his post-playoff hints seriously, still hadn’t declared that he was coming back next season. But as Observer-Reporter Dale Lolley and others reported on March 18, the Steelers two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was speaking at a conference at Liberty University on March 17, when he said he was “leaning towards” returning.

  • Leaning towards? Come on, Ben, as far as idle threats go, you’re taking this pretty far, aren’t you?

Finally, on Friday, Ben Roethlisberger took to Twitter to officially announce he’ll be back for 2017.

“Steeler Nation will get my absolute best,” Tweeted Roethlisberger on Friday, courtesy of NFL.com .

So, to sort of summarize the timeline: Roethlisberger hinted at retirement during his final radio show of the season on January 24. He said he was leaning towards returning on March 17. And on April 7, some two-and-a-half months after his cryptic radio statement, he officially came back into the fold for 2017.

  • What does it all mean?

Is this just a matter of Ben Roethlisberger defying his “drama queen” critics by making everyone wait an inordinate amount of time before announcing his return, or is this something deeper and more serious?

While five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady will be 40 by the time he appears in another meaningful NFL game, and while Peyton Manning played up until his 40th birthday, this doesn’t mean every quarterback will want to do the same.

Shortly after Roethlisberger, 35, first hinted at retirement, I was speaking with a bowling buddy and he said, “Well, maybe he doesn’t want his brain to turn to mush.”

  • As an adamant defender (and lover) of pro football, I quickly dismissed my friend’s theory, but maybe there’s some truth to it.

Ben Roethlisberger plays a style of quarterback that’s different than most. His size (6’5″, 240 pounds) and willingness to keep plays alive means he takes the kind of punishment that most passers often try to avoid.

Sure, thanks to a vastly improved offensive line, Roethlisberger’s sacks and hits have decreased exponentially in recent years. However, he missed a month in 2015 with a sprained MCL; and he missed more time in 2016 with a torn meniscus that required surgery.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger family

Ben Roethlisberger and his family. Photo Credit: NFL.com

Add those to the many other ailments Ben Roethlisberger has suffered over  the years–sprained shoulders, sprained ankles, multiple concussions, etc.–and it’s safe to say he’ll still be dealing with the “reminders” of his pro football career, long after he really does decide to hang up his cleats.

And let’s not forget that the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, once known as an undisciplined partier in his younger days, is now domesticated, complete with a lovely wife and three young children.

  • It’s like what Rocky told Adrian in Rocky III, “Before, I would go in the ring and get busted up and I didn’t care. Now, I got you, I got the kid, I don’t want to lose what I got.”

It’s easy, as a fan, to sit back and say, “Oh, he should just play.” But it’s always important to remember that professional athletes are human beings, after all, and like everyone else, they have personal issues to deal with.

Perhaps it’s not just as simple as No. 7 being upset with his coach or some of his teammates. Maybe it’s about wanting to spend more time with his family.

The price that a football player has to pay just to get ready for a season is rather high, and that includes an abnormal amount of time time spent away from his family. Anyway, like everyone but maybe his closest friends, I have no idea what really motivated Ben Roethlisberger to hint at retirement this offseason and what took him so long to announce his return.

But given the length of time that Roethlisberger took in making his decision, one has to wonder if there will now be an annual “retirement watch” until he finally does decide to call it a career.

Either way, it certainly may put the Steelers front-office in a position of trying to balance winning now with finding Roethlisberger’s successor (or at least the one they hope will be up to the task of replacing arguably the greatest quarterback in franchise history).

Maybe this really will be Roethlisberger’s final season. Maybe he’ll play-out his current deal, which runs through 2019. Maybe he’ll reach his late 30’s and decide he wants to play this game into his early 40’s.

Only Ben Roethlisberger knows for sure, and maybe we all should start taking him more seriously.

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Raiders Las Vegas Move Proves that Fan Loyalty will Never Matter in the NFL

As a Steelers fan for the past 37 years, the idea of them moving to another city seems like a work of fiction akin to someone building a time machine.

After all, is there a fan base more passionate about and loyal to its favorite football team than the one that has supported the Steelers since 1972, when the winning tradition first started, as did the streak of sell-outs that has now reached 45 years?

It doesn’t seem that way, but then again, you could probably have said the same thing about the Cleveland Browns in the mid-80’s, when they reigned supreme in the old AFC Central, and the Dawg Pound, the nickname for the late Cleveland Municipal Stadium, was maybe the most intimidating home field advantage in the NFL.

Unfortunately, by the mid-’90’s, Art Modell, the now deceased former owner of the Browns, was clamoring  for a new Pound, complete with luxury boxes and other such amenities familiar to modern sports facilities. Modell didn’t get his wishes (like every other professional sports owner, he wanted the city to pick up most of the tab in the form of public funding), so he uprooted the Browns, moved them to Baltimore in 1996 and re-christened them the Ravens.

[Editor’s Note: An fact often forgotten, thanks to Modell’s PR spin machine, is that the city of Cleveland was working aggressively on a stadium package to keep the Browns in Cleveland during 1994 and 1995. During the early summer months, Modell broke off negotiations saying he felt he had a Super Bowl team on his hands. Instead, Modell had actually begun secretly negotiating with the Maryland Stadium Authority to move the team to Baltimore. The city of Cleveland continued with its plans, and put in place the package that built the stadium that houses the Browns today.]

Speaking of Baltimore, just 12 years earlier, that city, home to one of the most storied franchises in the NFL–the Colts–lost its professional football team, when then owner Robert Irsay moved it to Indianapolis. 

  • I can go on and on listing the number of teams that have relocated to other cities over the years, but the point is, when it comes to history, loyalty and passion, they all lose out to money.

You see, despite their statuses as billionaires, most sports owners–in this case, NFL owners–simply refuse to do the bulk of the funding when it comes to building brand new stadiums.

  • In most cases, if they don’t get their way, they move their team to a city willing and able to give them what they want.

Such was the case for Raiders owner Mark Davis, who won NFL approval last week for the right to move his team to Las Vegas starting in 2020. By then, the Raiders (or whatever they’ll be called) will have a sparkling new home thanks to $750 million in tax funds. 


For years, the Raiders couldn’t get their current home city–Oakland, California–to fork over public funding for Oakland Coliseum (nicknamed The Black Hole for its intimidating look and intimidating and passionate fans).

The Coliseum opened in 1966 and became home of the then AFL Raiders. After a decade and a half of almost uninterrupted success–including two world championships–Al Davis, Mark’s late father and legendary former owner of the Raiders, clamored for upgrades to the Coliseum and ultimately agreed to move to Los Angeles.

  • After a lengthy and furious battle with other NFL owners and then commissioner Pete Rozelle, Davis got his way and moved his team to L.A. in 1982.

But Los Angeles, for all its glitz and glamour, didn’t possess the passion, love and loyalty for the Raiders that Oakland did.

According to the Raiders wikipedia page, Davis moved his team back to Oakland for the 1995 season, after the city agreed to upgrade the Coliseum to the tune of $220 million.

However, by modern NFL standard’s the Coliseum just didn’t cut it in the long run, and a new facility was the only thing that would appease the Raiders.

But to the city’s credit, the demands to build a new stadium were met with resistance by local politicians, and now the Raiders find themselves as lame-duck residents in a city filled with fans who have always loved them.

Will Vegas, with all of its diversions that include gambling, nightlife and endless entertainment options, even notice that it has an NFL franchise in its backyard?

Oakland will surely notice that the Raiders are missing, and if the city follows the same path as Cleveland in the late ’90’s and Houston in the early 00’s (let’s not forget about the Oilers relocation to Tennessee in 1997), those same local politicians will have to relent and agree to fund a brand new stadium in-order to get another team (possibly one of the expansion variety) to come to town.

Yes, while Baltimore got the old Browns and ultimately two more NFL titles (the Colts won two NFL Championships and a Super Bowl before they relocated to Baltimore), Cleveland was awarded a new Browns team in the form of an expansion franchise in 1999.

Of course, this deal could not be finalized until a new facility (today its corporate name is FirstEnergy Stadium) was built–at the taxpayers expense, of course.

Same held true for the City of Houston, who was awarded an expansion franchise–the Texans–in 2002 along with, of course, a brand new home in the form of NRG Stadium (its sponsor name at the moment).

  • As for the Oilers, they’re now the Titans and play in NissanStadium (current sponsor), home of the team since 1999.

It is worth noting that the late Bud Adams, former owner of the Oilers/Titans, moved his team out of Houston when the Astrodome, once called the Eighth Wonder of the World, didn’t receive the financial upgrades that would have put it back on par with the more modern stadiums of the day.

So what does this have to do with the Steelers? Nothing, other than to point out that if teams like the Browns, Colts, Oilers and Raiders can all leave their respective cities filled with very passionate and loyal fan bases, perhaps the same could happen to the Steelers one day.

Sure, Heinz Field is a rather modern stadium, but it doesn’t take long for a sports facility to either begin to show its age or seem out-dated, when compared to even newer places.

Heinz Field opened in 2001, so in terms of buildings, it’s practically a baby. But in terms of newer revenue streams? Don’t be so sure.

The old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, home of both the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings, opened in 1982 and hosted several big time events–including the Super Bowl, two World Series and two Final Fours. By the early 00’s, however, the stadium was seen as antiquated, and the Vikings then owner, Red McCombs, petitioned then governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura for a new stadium.

The Body refused to back down, and as recently as 2012, there was talk that the Vikings could relocate to Los Angeles.

That never happened, as both the Twins and Vikings received new facilities with the help of public funding.

The Vikings now call U.S. Bank Stadium (current sponsor) home; with its modern look and valuable revenue streams, it should keep the Vikings owners happy…for at least a decade or two.

NFL owners are always looking for new revenue streams; such was the case for the  Steelers owners a few years ago, when the Rooney family engaged in a very public battle with  the city of Pittsburgh over the cost of adding 3,000 extra seats to Heinz Field. 

  • What happens in another five, 10 or 15 years, when Heinz Field is perhaps seen as out-of-date and all new revenue streams have been bled dry?

Would the city and state be willing to publicly fund yet another NFL stadium in order to keep the Steelers happy…and in town?

You might say so now, but who knows what the financial climate will look like in the future.

History has shown us that relocation can happen to just about any team, and the Pittsburgh Steelers may be no exception.

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Steelers Free Agent Signings of Hunter, Davis Sensabaugh & Tyson Alualu Offer Insurance

Ever notice how a certain album produces a few hit singles, while another just sort of hits you with one nice song after another, until you look up in February and realize it was just nominated for a Grammy?

When it comes to the NFL’s annual free-agent frenzy, the Pittsburgh Steelers never have any hit singles, let alone a few. This year was no exception, as big-time name after big-time name went off the proverbial “big board,” while Pittsburgh just sat back and made its entire fan base feel unfilled. (The re-signings of backup quarterback Landry Jones and journeyman tight end David Johnson did nothing to satiate anyone’s appetite.)

Nearly a week past, before Pittsburgh made news again (kind of), by agreeing to terms with both cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and running back/return specialist Knile Davis. 

Saving the best for last, the Steelers came to terms with veteran defensive lineman Tyson Alualu on a two-year deal for $6 million.

Senquez Golson, Senquez Golson injury, cotty sensabaugh

The Steelers signed free agent Cotty Sensabaugh as insurance that Senquez Golson can’t provide. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Actually, the addition of Tyson Alualu to an already talented defensive line was seen as a sound move by Pittsburgh, a signing that could pay huge dividends this season, as Alualu will no doubt be an upgrade over the likes of Ricardo Mathews and Cam Thomas, two free-agent signings who provided depth along the defensive line to varying degrees of success in recent years.

  • With Tyson Alualu acting as the cherry on top of the cake, Pittsburgh’s current free-agent crop now doesn’t look so bad, and you kind of get an idea of what the organization’s goal was from the start.

The 2017 free-agency period wasn’t about the splash move (even if Dont’a Hightower was wined and dined before he decided to stay with the Patriots); it wasn’t even necessarily about finding a veteran who may have not been seen as very splashy, but one would have started at a position of need.

  • No, if these four signings are any indication, the Steelers were driven by providing insurance in a few key areas.

Despite losing star defensive end Cameron Heyward to a season-ending injury on November 13, Keith Butler‘s young and often struggling defense showed great improvement over the last seven games and into the playoffs. But how much better off would the unit have been had it been able to plug in a defensive lineman of Tyson Alualu’s pedigree down-the-stretch?

The 10th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Jaguars, Alualu started 88 games during his seven seasons in Jacksonville. While he hasn’t quite lived up to his lofty draft-status, he is clearly a talent upgrade over the likes of Mathews and Thomas and should strengthen Pittsburgh’s defensive line rotation. And in the likely scenario that Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave or Heyward has to miss time due to injuries next season, the gap from from starter to reserve shouldn’t be as great as it was in 2016.

After the Tennessee Titans made him the 34th pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, Hunter, 25, has bounced around the league.

  • Justin Hunter averaged just over 22 receptions a season, before catching 10 in 2016.

With 78 career receptions for just over 1,300 yards, Hunter has fallen well short of his lofty pre-draft potential that included a 6’4″, 200-pound frame and 4.4 speed. But if we’re going to speak of pedigree, however, fairness demands that we acknowledge that Justin Hunter has never had a quarterback with Ben Roethlisberger‘s skill-set throwing to him; maybe if he had, his potential would have been fleshed out just a bit more.

Martavis Bryant,

Martavis Bryant reviews a play on a tablet during the 2015 season. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today via stillcurtain.com

Four of Hunter’s 10 catches went for touchdowns in 2016, so maybe he could benefit from now finding himself on a roster with not only Roethlisberger but some of the NFL’s best offensive weapons in Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant.

In a worst-case scenario, if Martavis Bryant, if he doesn’t find himself back on a football field next year, and Sammie Coates can’t recover from the finger ailments that derailed what started out as a promising sophomore season in 2016, Hunter should be a much more talented alternative than the likes of Cobi Hamilton

As for Knile Davis and Coty Sensabaugh, while the Steelers would obviously be in a bad way if either had to start many games at their respective positions in 2017, they should also provide some decent insurance,

Knile Davis, for example, may never be more than competition for Fitzgerald Toussaint, but if he does win the job as the team’s third running back, this will open the door to providing his real value as a kickoff returner.

With 1,960 career return yards on his resume, Knile Davis should be a significant upgrade over Toussaint, who averaged just 21.3 yards per kickoff return last season.

Finally, Coty Sensabaugh may not have been the veteran cornerback Steelers fans were hoping for–far from it–but he did start 15 games for the Titans two years ago.

  • Besides, the Steelers secondary may not need a splashy free-agent signing to see an upgrade.

If Artie Burns and Sean Davis improve over their already rather impressive  rookie seasons, and if Senquez Golson finally sees a football field in 2017 and ultimately performs like his 2015 second round pedigree, Coty Sensabaugh will act as the best insurance policy: one you never need to cash in on.

No, the Steelers didn’t make any big-time signings, but their free-agent class seems a bit more impressive when you examine it for it what really is.

Some nice insurance.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Better for Le’Veon Bell to have Surgery Now Rather than Later

Everyone was kind of shocked when Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell saw limited action in the AFC Championship loss to the Patriots due to a groin injury.

However, the more shocking news came about afterwards, when Le’Veon Bell, himself, admitted during Super Bowl week that he actually suffered the injury in the wild card victory over the Dolphins on January 8.

But maybe even more shocking, still, was Le’Veon Bell’s revelation during a Super Bowl week interview that his groin injury was so severe that he had to seek two medical opinions–one advised surgery; the other advised rest.

Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs. Chiefs, Steelers Chiefs playoffs, Le'Veon Bell surgery, Steelers playoff rushing record, Le'Veon Bell Steelers playoff game rushing record

Le’Veon Bell rushing in his record breaking playoff performance against the Chiefs. Photo Credit: Kyle Rivas, UPI

Given the choice, most people in Le’Veon Bell’s situation (whether they be professional athletes or ordinary citizens) would probably much rather rest than go under the knife.  It’s easy to forget that surgery, even something that seems non-life-threatening such as a groin repair, is a scary thing to face.

  • Maybe that’s why, sitting around in early-February, Le’Veon Bell may have been leaning towards the rest and rehab prescription.

If you’re a fan of the team, on the other hand, you may have feared Bell putting off the surgery all off season, only to be forced to have the procedure during the regular season and miss a significant amount of time.

After all, something similar happened to James Harrison in 2012. Deebo came into training camp with a nagging knee injury and waited until August to go under the knifey, delaying his start to 2012. And just this last year something similar happened with Bud Dupree. Dupree had a similar injury to Bell’s waited to have surgery, and Bud Dupree starting 2016 on injured reserve because of it.

  • So, would Le’Veon Bell continue to take the wait and see approach, or would he decide that surgery was the best option?

The answer came on March 13, when it was announced that Bell underwent surgery to repair his groin injury and is now in the post-procedure recovery phase of things.

If you ask me, Le’Veon Bell did the right thing by seeking multiple opinions for his injured groin. After all, it’s his life, and if surgery can be avoided, it’s perhaps always best to do so.

However, if there were any doubts as to the rest and rehab process, Le’Veon Bell also did the right thing by having the procedure done in mid-March, thus giving himself plenty of time to rest, recover, rehab and prepare for the 2017 campaign.

In-terms of his financial future in the NFL, 2017 figures to be a huge year for Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh slapped the franchise tag on Bell in late-February, which will guarantee the mega-star running back $12 million next season, once he actually gets around to signing (nothing hints at him not sending the tender, at this point).

But even though Bell is guaranteed a huge payday in 2017, he obviously wants an even bigger one, either before the start of the regular season or after it. In other words, Le’Veon Bell is looking for the usual long-term contract and financial security players of his status often seek on the open market.

Of course, that money doesn’t have to come from the open market, if the Steelers and Bell reach an agreement on a long-term deal some time in the very near future.

  • And maybe that’s why Le’Veon Bell elected to eliminate all doubt and just go ahead and have the procedure.

In addition to missing a total of five games due to drug-related suspensions, Le’Veon Bell has also missed eight regular season games, one playoff game, a significant portion of another playoff game and an entire postseason due to injuries since Pittsburgh selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

“Injury prone” is something no player (even a superstar) wants to be labeled as. And when you factor in the off-field issues, it would be easy to see the Steelers seeking other running back options, rather than committing so much money to Le’Veon Bell.

But now that Bell has gone ahead with the surgery–and he’s done so roughly six months before the start of the regular season–there is really nothing stopping him from being 100 percent healthy and ready to go.

Oh, by the way, 2017 figures to be a big year for the Steelers, as well. Coming off an ugly exit in the AFC Championship game, the expectations are going to be through the roof with regards to reaching and winning Super Bowl LII.

Without Le’Veon Bell, who, when healthy carries an overwhelming load in Pittsburgh’s offense, those expectations would be tempered significantly, regardless of whether Martavis Bryant returns to give Ben Roethlisberger another superstar receiver opposite Antonio Brown.

  • Sure, surgery doesn’t guarantee anything, and if he were to run into post-procedure complications, Bell wouldn’t be the first player.

But, in this case, it’s better for all parties involved that Le’Veon Bell elected to be proactive.

His immediate future, and that of the Steelers, depends on it.

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Justifying Steelers Faith in Landry Jones as Backup Quarterback

In case you haven’t been paying attention because you’re a little too busy gnashing your teeth over the Pittsburgh Steelers lack of free-agent activity, Pittsburgh inked backup quarterback Landry Jones to two-year contract that will average $2.2 million annually.

  • If you have been paying attention or are just finding this out, chances are, you’re not very happy with this development.

After all, you may be one of the many fans who consider Landry Jones the worst backup in the NFL. Why do you think this way? In addition to the four interceptions he threw in an exhibition loss to the Eagles at Heinz Field last August, Jones has looked kind of shaky in his 16 career appearances (four starts). He’s completed 85 of 141 passes for 1,071 yards, while throwing seven touchdowns to six interceptions.

Landry Jones, Carson Palmer, Landry Jones Steelers backup quarterback, Steelers vs Cardinals

Landry Jones and Carson Palmer talk after Jones relief win over the Arizona Cardinals in October 2014. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via Arizonasports.com

So why are Landry Jones’ numbers so underwhelming, so blah? Maybe it’s because he’s a backup quarterback, who has occasionally filled in for a franchise-caliber passer in one Ben Roethlisberger.

Good starting quarterbacks are a rare find, and those with the Hall of Fame credentials that Ben Roethlisberger possesses are even rarer. Therefore, when that guy’s backup takes his place for any length of time, the drop-off is going to be noticeable.

  • Back to those simply good starting quarterbacks. Just how rare of a find are they?

They are so rare, Brian Hoyer, a 31-year old journeyman quarterback with 8,600 yards and 31 starts on his resume, just got $10 million in guaranteed money to be the 49ers signal-caller over the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, Mike Glennon, who hasn’t started a game in the NFL since 2014 and threw for just 75 yards last season, signed a three-year contract with the Bears for $45 million, with $18.5 million of it guaranteed.

  • Will Hoyer and Glennon pan out for their new teams? That remains to be seen, but if either one of them winds up out of a job next season, that wouldn’t be a shocker.

Last season, Brock Osweiler parlayed the seven starts and 1,967 passing yards he accumulated while filling in for the legendary Peyton Manning in 2015 into a four-year, $32 million contract from the Texans.

After a more than forgettable stint in Houston, Osweiler is now a member of the Browns, who acquired him in a trade on Thursday (and word is that the Browns are trying to trade Osweiler to another team or could cut him outright).

What’s my point in all of this? If it’s that hard to find a starting quarterback in the NFL, how can you expect the Steelers to find a better backup than Landry Jones?

  • Are there better backups in the NFL than Jones?

I’m sure there are. Would any of those backups lead the Steelers to a string of victories if Ben Roethlisberger were to suffer a serious injury? Probably not.

Landry Jones, Todd Haley, Steelers vs Cardinals

Todd Haley gives Landry Jones instructions as he heads to the field to face the Cardinals. Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, Getty Images via LA Times

Landry Jones has been in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system since Pittsburgh selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The reason Jones was brought in and groomed to be the backup was because the front office and coaching staff wanted someone who could step in at a moment’s notice and run the offense.

You remember what happened two years ago, when Michael Vick was signed just weeks prior to the start of the season and thrust into action in Week 3, following an MCL sprain suffered by Roethlisberger.

Mike Vick, who had only about six weeks to learn the playbook, was mostly ineffective, as the offense struggled mightily.

  • Does the offense run like a well-oiled machine under Jones? No, but at least the playbook and the system both stay the same.

In the grand-scheme of things, there is nothing less interesting to talk about than a team’s backup quarterback. Unless of course you live in Pittsburgh and the starter is Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell or Kordell Stewart. Then you positively LOVE talking about starting the backup quarterback until reality reveals that David Woodley, Todd Blackledge, and Mike Tomczak really didn’t offer the Steelers a better chance to win….

…But that’s another conversation.

As we close, however, let’s concede that if Landry Jones becomes the Steelers starter for more than a couple of three games, Pittsburgh IS going to suffer for it. But let’s also remember that the same is true for just about any other NFL team, and that the Steelers could do worse at QB Number 2.

  • Therefore, just accept the fact that Landry Jones is the Steelers backup quarterback.

If you’re STILL fretting over that fact, then remember this – having Le’Veon Bell behind him and Antonio Brown in front of him will make Landry Jones a lot better quarterback. And besides, there seriously are more important things to worry about.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Why Steelers Should Let Free Agent Ricardo Mathews Walk & Seek Depth in 2017 Draft

Defensive end Ricardo Mathews was the quintessential journeyman free-agent when the Steelers signed him to a one-year veteran minimum contract for $760,000 last March.

One year later, it appears as nothing’s changed. Just days away from free-agency, Mathews will soon be free to shop his services to other teams. Will he do so, or will he set up some roots in Pittsburgh, provided Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Johnny Mitchell want him back….?

Ricardo Mathews, Ricardo Mathews free agent

Ricardo Mathews lines up in the 2016 Steelers road win over the Bengals. Photo Credit: USA Today’s SteelersWire

Capsule Profile of Ricardo Mathews Steelers Career

Mathews was a seventh round pick by the Colts in the 2010 NFL Draft; after making the team out of training camp, he initially set up roots in Indianapolis, where he remained for four years. Mathews started six games as a member of the Colts, recording five sacks and 67 tackles.

In 2014, Mathews elected to sign with the Texans as a free-agent, but was waived and never appeared in any regular season games for Houston. However, Mathews found a home with the Chargers that same year and remained in San Diego through the 2015 season, before signing that aforementioned one-year deal with the Steelers.

The Steelers brought Ricardo Mathews to Pittsburgh to replace/upgrade the position previously held by Cam Thomas, who’d also come from the San Diego Chargers.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Mathews 

Teams covet depth for a reason, and when star defensive end Cameron Heyward played in only seven games in 2016 due to multiple injuries, you saw why depth is so important.

In Ricardo Mathews, 29, the Steelers had a veteran player who started seven games for the Chargers the year before; they were forced to lean on that experience, as he started five games a year ago. While he only recorded eight tackles and one sack during the season, Mathews appeared in all 16 games in 2016 and played a bigger role than anyone could have anticipated.

During the Steelers embarrassing October loss against the Miami Dolphins where, Jay Ajayi ran like Walter Peyton in his prime, it appeared that the Dolphins had been targeting Ricardo Mathews.

Yet, the Steelers run defense improved during the final nine games of 2016 and that only happens if Ricardo Mathews is pulling his weight.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Ricardo Mathews 

While Ricardo Mathews did play a fairly big role in 2016, he obviously didn’t make the splash plays that fellow defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt, rookie Javon Hargrave and Came Heyward are capable of. That was to be expected, of course. After all, if a journeyman defensive lineman was capable of making the same types of splash plays as superstars and promising rookies, he wouldn’t be a journeyman defensive lineman.

I believe Rotoworld summed up Mathews’ pedigree quite nicely, even before his arrival in Pittsburgh:

“A career reserve, Mathews played 525 ineffective snaps for the Chargers last season. He’s just a body for the Steelers, one who faces an uphill climb to crack the 53-man roster.”

A year later, can anyone suggest that Ricardo Mathews is anything more? Sure, he was an upgrade over Cam Thomas but so what? Keith Willis or Kevin Henry could probably come out of retirement and offer an improvement over Cam Thomas.

  • OK, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but its probably not to suggest that a health Brett Keisel could pull himself up off the couch to contribute more than Cam Thomas did.

L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey showed they can play giving the Steelers cheaper and younger alternatives to Ricardo Mathews.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Ricardo Mathews 

While Mathews did crack the 53-man roster a year ago and proved to be more than just a body for the Steelers, fact is, he’ll be 30 by the start of training camp. And in-addition to fighting the likes of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave for playing time, youngsters Daniel McCullers, L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey are also in the mix.

While it would be nice to have a player with Ricardo Mathews’ experience on the roster in-case of injury, L.T. Walton and Daniel McCullers have now gained enough experience that they should be ready to step in and provide reasonable depth at a moment’s notice.

The Steelers would be wise to let Ricardo Mathews explore the free agent market, while looking to add defensive line depth through the draft.

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Steelers Restricted Free Agent Tender to Chris Hubbard is a Low Risk No Brainer

When talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers group of upcoming free-agents, reserve offensive lineman Chris Hubbard probably doesn’t enter into most discussions among fans and the media.

But that’s the thing about backup offensive linemen in the National Football League:

  • You never know when you’re going to need them.

Such was the case for the Steelers and Hubbard early last season, when starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and veteran backup swing tackle Ryan Harris were both lost in a 43-14 Sunday night victory over the Chiefs at Heinz Field.

Chris Hubbard, Chris Hubbard restricted free agent, Chis Hubbard tight end

Chris Hubbard lines up as a tight end in the Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Capsule Profile of Chris Hubbard’s Steelers Career

Chris Hubbard, a 2013 undrafted rookie free-agent out of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), bounced back and forth between the team’s practice squad and active roster during 2013, 2014 and 2015 before finally finding a permanent job among the final 53 in 2016.

Its a bit ironic when you look back, as Mike Golic Jr. and Nik Embernate aka “Embernasty” got all the headlines when the Steelers 2013 undrafted rookie free agent class was announced, but four years later, it was Chris Hubbard who was suiting up for the AFC Championship game.

A versatile lineman who can play guard, center and tackle, Hubbard proved his worth against Kansas City in that aforementioned Week 4 match-up, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had perhaps his best game of the season, passing for 300 yards and five touchdowns.

With Marcus Gilbert and Ryan Harris both ruled out against the Jets seven days later, Chris Hubbard got his first career start at right tackle. The result: a more than satisfactory performance in a 31-13 Steelers victory over the Jets at Heinz Field.

  • A week later, Chris Hubbard struggled quite a bit in a 30-15 loss at Miami, as Pittsburgh also lost Ben Roethlisberger with a torn meniscus.

Chris Hubbard started two more games at right tackle before Marcus Gilbert finally returned from his ankle injury, and the young lineman would  remain the backup tackle the rest of the year, as Ryan Harris, who suffered a shin injury against the Chiefs, ultimately had to be placed on Injured Reserve.

Chris Hubbard also saw extensive spot-duty as a third tight end in the Steelers “Big Boy” package, helping David Johnson and Jesse James open holes for Le’Veon Bell.

Pro’s & Con’s of Steelers Decision to RFA Tender to Chris Hubbard

As the Steelers approach free-agency, Hubbard is of the restricted free agent, meaning the Steelers retain the right of first refusal should any other team offer Chris Hubbard a contract.

  • Will there be any offers for Hubbard, 25? Probably not. Should have tendered him a right of first refusal option (as they have) anyway?

If you were to say linemen of Hubbard’s pedigree are a dime a dozen, you would be correct. If you also were to say that Jerald Hawkins, Pittsburgh’s fourth round pick out of LSU in 2016, is someone the team probably is counting on to make strides in 2017, you are also surely correct.

  • Fact is, the Steelers seem set at both tackle positions for the near-future.

Marcus Gilbert is signed through 2019, while left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who only has two years of NFL experience and is an exclusive-rights free-agent, meaning he simply must take whatever offer Pittsburgh gives him.

A year ago Chris Hubbard was a “nice to have” type player to have on your depth chart, now he’s one play away from protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside.

Obviously, the Steelers could fill the backup tackle void with just about anyone, but why not with a player who has been in their system for some time now and also has had and will continue to have the privilege of being coached my Mike Munchak, perhaps the best in the business at what he does and certainly the most respected assistant coach on Pittsburgh’s staff.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Chis Hubbard

When you see the improvements of the likes of Marcus Gilbert and more notably Alejandro Villanueva in recent years, Chris Hubbard is certainly in good hands, and if any offensive line coach can get max out of his abilities, it’s Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

  • The Steelers have already offered Chris Hubbard a right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard.

Exact figures for 2017’s right of first refusal offers are suggested to be in the 1.85 million dollar range. So its doubtful that another team will try to sign Chris Hubbard away.

Its says here the Steelers made the right move in protecting Chris Hubbard. The Steelers have invested heavily in his development, and the truth is Chris Hubbard will be on someone’s roster in 2017. He he might as well be on the Steelers’ because you just never know when his services will be needed.

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Belated Thank You: Thanks Steelers for a Wonderful 2016 Season

[Editor’s note: Steel Curtain Rising has already shifted coverage to the Steelers 2017 off season, but author Tony Defeo pauses to offer some belated thanks to the men in Black and Gold.]

It’s been nearly a month since the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 quest for a Lombardi trophy went up in smoke at the hands of the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

  • During that time, the general feelings regarding the team’s accomplishments have been those of disappointment, along with bitterness and anger.

I must admit that I was quite depressed for a few days following the end of Pittsburgh’s campaign, and I even went so far as to  not want to acknowledge what a great ride 2016 really was. After all, the Steelers came within two victories of a seventh Super Bowl title.

Antonio Brown, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers Christmas win Ravens

Antonio Brown scores game winner in Steelers Christmas comeback vs Ravens. (Photo Credit: Steelers.com via Steel City Blitz)

Think about that for one moment. Just two more victories, and the perception among fans would have been much, much different.

  • And when you put the Steelers 2016 season into that kind of perceptive, it really does make you appreciate what a wonderful job they did.

As Steelers fans, we’re almost nauseating when it comes to our high-standards for the team, and how nothing short of a championship is acceptable in our eyes.

  • If that’s the case, why celebrate any moment, any victory, any advancement in the postseason, if it doesn’t all lead to a championship?

Why not just sit on your hands the entire season and reserve your real appreciation for when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is presenting Dan Rooney with that Lombardi trophy on a grand stage following a Super Bowl victory?

Fact is, Pittsburgh gave you and I many great moments in 2016 that included 11 wins, a division title and two postseason triumphs on the way to the AFC Championship game.

The Steelers 2016 season included a nine-game winning-streak, almost 1900 yards from scrimmage by Le’Veon Bell in just 12 games, a coming-of-age defense that includes many young defenders, such as Ryan ShazierArtie Burns, Javon Hargrave and Sean DavisThen there was the resurgence of veterans such as Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison.

And, of course, that glorious moment on Christmas night, when Antonio Brown essentially extended the season by extending his arm over the goal line, as three Ravens tacklers were trying to prevent him from doing so in the waning seconds of the de facto AFC North title game at Heinz Field.

So, while many fans (and even some of the Steelers, themselves–including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) have been screaming for change since that 36-17 beatdown at the hands of the Patriots, I just wanted to be one who offered my virtual hand and thanked you for a tremendous season.

  • It wasn’t long ago that just winning a playoff game was a monkey that needed to be extracted from the organization’s back.

Now, three in two years?

Again, sometimes it’s good to gain a little perceptive.

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Think Steelers Should Trade Antonio Brown? Then Follow Le’Veon Bell’s Example and Stop Smoking

Antonio Brown, the Steelers superstar receiver and social media celebrity, has come under fire recently for putting too much emphasis on his superstar status and for, well, being on social media too much.

Among Antonio Brown‘s many follies recently was his Facebook Live post in the Steelers’ locker room shortly after an exciting 18-16 victory over the Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoffs on January 15.

I can go on and on about Antonio Brown’s various transgressions that include your usual diva-like receiver tendencies of whining and complaining about not getting enough passes thrown his way, but if you’re reading this article, you probably know it all by now.

Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Browns

Antonio Brown leads Le’Veon Bell at Heinz Field in Steelers 2014 opener. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via PennLive.com

As is often the case in the Internet Age, fans have been quick to call for the Steelers to trade Antonio Brown to another team. Not all of the fans, mind you,  but, relative to his status as perhaps the game’s top wide-out, enough to make it noticeable.

  • “Trade him for two number one draft picks!” some fans have written or screamed in recent days.

Fans are just crazy about the NFL Draft and draft picks. And any scenario that could involve Pittsburgh having multiple first rounders in this spring’s draft would be akin to counting down the days until Christmas morning for so many out there.

But if you think Antonio Brown, who has one year left on his current contract, would garner two first round picks in a trade, you are crazy. Given Antonio Brown’s lame-duck status, fetching even one first rounder might be little more than a pipe-dream.

However, that begs an even bigger question: even if you can garner two first round picks for Antonio Brown, why would you want to?

Why Antonio Brown is Worth More than 2 First Round Picks

First of all, contrary to what you always think every February, March and most of April, first round picks don’t always pan out.

Secondly, how can a first round pick (or even two) possibly best what Antonio Brown has and will probably continue to produce on the football field week in and week out?

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, Antonio Brown’s stats declined last year. He made 30 fewer receptions in 2016 than he did the previous year (106) for 550 fewer yards (1,284).

  • But to point that out as a criticism of Antonio Brown while not also mentioning the probable reason is rather disingenuous.

Given that the Steelers were missing Martavis Bryant for all of 2016, Markus Wheaton for all but three games and tight end Ladarius Green for all but six, it makes perfect sense that Antonio Brown’s numbers would see a swift decline from the year before.

Remember that offense that everyone envisioned, the NFL’s equivalent of the Death Star, complete with a plethora of aerial weapons for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to pick and choose how to obliterate opposing defenses? That kind of went up in smoke (pun intended) when Martavis Bryant was suspended for testing positive for marijuana for the second time in as many seasons.

Sammie Coates, Sammie Coates drop, steelers trade antonio brown

Sammie Coates drops a pass in the Steelers 2016 win over the Jets. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

You throw in the aforementioned injuries to some other targets–Green was supposed to be the downfield threat at tight end that would compensate for Bryant’s absence as the number two receiver–as well as Sammie Coates swift decline following a promising start to his second year, and Antonio Brown was destined to produce less in 2016.

Let’s face it, when you have Demarcus AyersCobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers (no offense to those men as they appear to be developing into a fine NFL receivers) as complementary targets, who do you think defensive coordinators are going to focus on stopping, them or Antonio Brown?

  • This is why No. 84 often dealt with double and triple teams in 2016.

This might also explain why Antonio Brown’s yards after catch (YAC) dropped from 587 in 2015 to 387 last year. Sure, it only makes sense that Brown’s YAC would decrease along with his overall yards, but it also illustrates the lack of room he had to work in after making most of his 106 receptions.

And even if Antonio Brown had benefited from being complemented quite nicely by Martavis Bryant, Marcus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Ladarius Green in  2016, this does not mean his statistics wouldn’t have taken a dip. After all, Antonio Brown averaged 125 receptions a season between 2013-2015, a pretty historic run of productivity for a receiver from any generation–even one playing in the current era of pass-happy football.

Still Want Steelers to Trade Antonio Brown? Careful for What you Wish….

Again, fans are often quick to want to cut a player loose these days, even if his talents are all-world and his transgressions aren’t of the legal nature.

  • But, whether the fantasy football mentality or something else fuels this – careful what you wish for.

Let’s not forget, Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback hinted at retirement mere hours after the Steelers 36-17 loss to New England in the AFC Championship game. It is believed that Ben Roethlisberger’s hints were mostly out of frustration, that he was tired of the likes of Antonio Brown and his antics.

However, despite an apparent friction between No. 7 and Antonio Brown, does anyone really think that the best way to entice Ben Roethlisberger into playing longer would be to eliminate his number one target, arguably the very best in the game at his position?

Yes, Antonio Brown is apparently a high maintenance member of the locker room and maybe a little more self-centered than most receivers (and that’s saying something), but this is the man who essentially saved the Steelers season, when, despite three defenders vehemently trying to prevent him from doing so, extended his arm over the goal line with nine seconds left to give the Steelers a pulsating 31-27 victory over the Ravens on Christmas Day, which clinched the AFC North title.

Brown is also the same man who had the presence of mind to keep running across the field late in the divisional round against the Chiefs, got himself open and clinched the victory by reeling in Roethlisberger’s pass on third and three.

Steelers young money crew, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace

Steelers “Young Money” Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: Tribune Review Blog

Fans have also been quick to point out that since Pittsburgh has produced a seemingly endless string of receivers in recent years–let’s not forget Antonio Brown was once part of the Young  Money trio that included Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders–he could be replaced, if not totally, then approximately.

But with 632 receptions in just seven seasons–including four-straight with 100 or more– Antonio Brown is quickly ascending up the record books of Steelers receivers  and could quite literally ellipse all of the records set by Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Hines Ward while he’s still in his early-30s.

  • Despite what you think of him, and despite his apparent need to grow up just a tad, there is only one Antonio Brown.

Part ways with Antonio Brown, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a lesser football team.

I don’t think anyone is ready for that.

 

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The Truth Hurts: King Tom Brady Reigns over Pittsburgh in Steelers Patriots Rivalry

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the latest edition of the Steelers Patriots rivalry (or simply tried to block it out of your mind), the Steelers are home for the rest of the postseason, after suffering a humiliating 36-17 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium this past Sunday night.

  • If the words “humbling” and “embarrassing” sound familiar to you with regards to Pittsburgh’s run-ins with the Patriots over the years, that’s because they’re pretty accurate and descriptive.

After Sunday’s loss, the Steelers are now 2-10 against New England in games in the Tom Brady era. Furthermore, after accruing another  three touchdown passes in the title game, Brady now has 22 to zero interceptions when facing the Steelers in the Mike Tomlin era, which started in 2007.

Steelers Patriots rivalry, Sammie Coates, Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe, Rob Ninkovich, Steelers vs Patriots

Sammie Coates doesn’t stand a chance as 4 Patriots gang-tackle him in the AFC Championship game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

And if you want to really be sick to your stomach, you may need a bucket after learning that the Steelers’  had zero passes defensed against Tom Brady on Sunday, this despite him dropping back to pass 42 times.

  • If there ever was a team that had another’s number, it’s the Patriots over the Steelers.

Obviously, if you are a die-hard Steelers fan, you were hoping against hope that they’d be able to exorcise the New England demons and walk out of Gillette Stadium with a postseason victory and a trip to Super Bowl LI.

  • Unfortunately, if you  really are a die-hard fan of the Black-and-Gold, you now realize the Patriots are clearly the superior franchise and have been for the past 15 years.

I mean, did Sunday’s loss look any different to you than the debacles that took place at Heinz Field in both January of 2002 and January of 2005, when Pittsburgh fell victim to the Patriots with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line?

Going into the game, this one had the feel that it might be different. After all, there were a lot of Steelers-Patriots playoff firsts in this one:

At the end of the day, it might has well have been Kordell Stewart under center handing off to Amos Zereoue and trying to hit Bobby Shaw in the slot, with Lee Flowers and Dewayne Washington tackling receivers as Brady picked apart the Steelers zones.

They seemed all-too familiar, and now, after clinching their seventh trip to the Super Bowl since 2001, it’s clear the Patriots, and not the Steelers, are the standard of this excellents modern era.

Steelers Patriots Rivalry Decidedly One-Sided

Oh sure, the Steelers, with 10 playoff appearances, eight division titles, six AFC title game appearances, three trips to the Super Bowl and two Lombardi Trophies since 2001, have been one of the stars of the NFL in the 21st century. But the Patriots, with 14 AFC East titles, seven trips to the Super Bowl and four Lombardi Trophies over that same time-frame, are rightfully the measuring stick for all NFL franchises.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. While Pittsburgh, with its four Super Bowl victories in six seasons, was the dynasty of dynasties of the 1970s, the Cowboys and Raiders, with their star-studded rosters and combined three Super Bowl titles, certainly carved their own places in NFL lore.

  • The only problem is, it appears that the Patriots’ dynasty, one that seemed destined to end years ago, will continue on for seasons to come.

Bill Belichick, for all his faults with regards to Spygate, is one whale of a head coach. Belichick took over as New England’s coach in 2000, stumbled upon  the greatness of Tom Brady due to injury and soon found a formula for success, one where he has discovered a knack for going after a specific type of player at a specific type of position (can you tell where Wes Welker began and where Julian Edelman ends?) and plugging that player into his system and having success.

Steelers Patriots rivalry, Ryan Clark, Wes Welker, Steelers vs Patriots

Ryan Clark tackles Wes Welker in the Steelers 2008 win over the Bradyless Patriots. Photo Credit: Stephan Savoia, AP via Post-Gazette

Sure, it helps to have Tom Brady at quarterback, but the scary thing about him is, at age 39, he shows no signs of slowing down. I mean, we’re not talking about Peyton Manning, who threw nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions in his last season in 2015; Brady threw 32 touchdowns to only two interceptions in 2016, while only being sacked 15 times in 432 passing attempts.

  • In other words, Brady looks like he can play another five years, and if you’re a Steelers fan who watched him carve their defense up in the AFC Championship game, that has to be kind of chilling.

In-addition to Belichick, Brady, the system the Patriots employ and their franchise-wide commitment to winning, New England has and apparently will continue to benefit from an overall weak AFC East Division.

Comparing Steelers Patriots Rivalry to Steelers Rivalries of Old

If you are old enough to remember the ’70s, you know that while the Steelers dominated the old AFC Central to the tune of seven division titles, they still had to stave off the Browns, Bengals and Oilers, who were determined to build their franchises up in-order to compete. Houston came close, challenging the Steelers two years in a row in the AFC Championship game, while the Bengals swept Pittsburgh in both 1980 and 1981 and actually advanced to Super Bowl XVI, following the ’81 season.

Joe Greene, Dan Pastorini, Steelers vs Oilers, Steelers Oilers AFC Championship, 1978 AFC Championship

Joe Greene closes in on Dan Pastorini in the 1978 AFC title game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Besides the Patriots, only two teams have won the AFC East since 2001–the Jets in ’02 and the Dolphins in ’08. The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since before New England’s run started (1999), the Jets’ last postseason appearance was 2010, while Miami just made it back this year after an eight season absence.

With Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and a great defense, it looked as if the Jets would become a worth challenger to New England, and they were…for two seasons, before imploding into just another doormat in the division.

  • In other words, nobody in the Patriots’ division appears to be even close to challenging them now or over the next few years.

Say what you will about the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, but they’ve gone about trying to challenge Pittsburgh in the AFC North–particularly Baltimore, who has simply built its franchise to beat the Steelers over the years and with great success.

If you’re New England, and you know you’re all but guaranteed five or six wins within your own division every year, you just have to win another six or seven against the rest of the league in-order to capture no worse than a number two seed and a bye into the second round of the postseason.

  • If you do that every year–New England hasn’t had to play in the Wildcard round since 2009–the odds of getting to the Super Bowl increase that much more.
  • To summarize, the Steelers have been a major player in this era, but the Patriots are clearly the standard for success.

And it doesn’t look like New England’s dominant run either over the NFL or in the Steelers Patriots rivalry will end any time soon.

 

 

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