Steelers Preview Capsule
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-6)
New faces: CB Joe Haden, LB T.J. Watt, TE Vance McDonald, RB James Conner, WR Juju Smith-Schuster, CB Cam Sutton.
Key losses: LB Lawrence Timmons, RB DeAngelo Williams, TE Ladarius Green, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Sammie Coates, LB Jarvis Jones.
Strengths: Offense. “Killer Bs” — WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Martavis Bryant and QB Ben Roethlisberger — are reunited following Bryant’s return from yearlong drug suspension. Throw in one of best offensive lines in league and Pittsburgh should have no trouble putting up points. DE Cam Heyward is back from torn pectoral to anchor defensive line that improved as 2016 wore on.
Weaknesses: Secondary was exposed in loss to New England in AFC championship game last year. Coach Mike Tomlin wants more physical approach in 2017 and late addition of Haden gives Steelers proven defender (when healthy) to line up opposite Artie Burns. Nickelback and safety are up in air with Sutton likely to start regular season on injured reserve and Mike Mitchell recovering from lower-body injury that forced him to miss all of training camp. Even modest step forward by group could help Steelers challenge Patriots for top seed in AFC.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Brown is coming off the most productive four-year stretch by a receiver in NFL history (481 receptions for 6,315 yards and 43 touchdowns) and is eager to show the $72 million contract extension he signed was money well spent. Bell is arguably the best all-around back in the league and Bryant’s big-play potential ( Roethlisberger and fantasy owners plenty of options.
Expectations: Anything less than a trip to Minneapolis in early February will be a disappointment. Roethlisberger flirted with retirement in the spring before coming back for a 14th season and is working on a year-to-year basis from now on. He badly wants a third Super Bowl ring and the rare free agency splurge on Haden address the team’s biggest need. If healthy, the Steelers represent the AFC’s best shot at dethroning New England.