Can Pittsburgh win another division title without a typical Steeler defense? Head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the organization believe so. The Pittsburgh Steelers surprised everyone last year by winning 11 games and the AFC North Division title. With one of the league’s most explosive offenses, don’t be surprised if they do it again. Sportsbooks have taken notice of the Steelers 2015 possibilities by cautiously listing the squad as 22/1 favorites in NFL odds to win the Super Bowl, 12/1 to win the AFC Conference and +190 to win the AFC North. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the league (4,952 yards) in passing. The former first-round draft pick along with wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell form one of the league’s best QB-RB-WR trios. Brown was the NFL leader in receptions (129) and receiving yards (1,698). Bell, the team MVP, rushed for 1,361 yards and led the NFL in receiving yards by a running back (854). The Pittsburgh Steelers offense shows no signs of slowing, which is a good thing for the Pittsburgh defense.
For the first time in 12 seasons, the Pittsburgh defense will not be run by Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. The longtime defensive coordinator is now the assistant head coach in Tennessee. Keith Butler, former linebackers coach, takes over a defense that has significantly reduced its average age over the past two seasons. Perennial Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu has retired along with linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Ike Taylor. Veteran James Harrison is back as a rush outside linebacker, but the rest of the starting unit is young. The Steelers drafted Bud Dupree, a 6-4, 265-pound hybrid end/linebacker out of Kentucky. Ryan Shazier, last year’s first-round pick, should start at inside linebacker, and Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh’s first-rounder in 2013, should man a spot opposite Harrison.
The Steelers defended the run fairly well finishing sixth in the NFL, but the pass defense was atrocious. The unit managed just 33 sacks for the season, the Steelers’ lowest total since the late 1980s. The defense will need to become more opportunistic and create turnovers if Pittsburgh is to win the 2015 AFC North division title and possibly pay out 22/1 in NFL odds to win a Super Bowl title this season. It will be difficult to repeat last year’s 11 victories, but handicapping predictions show that an improved defense could be just the key. The Steelers kick off the season on the league’s opening Thursday night with a date at Super Bowl champion New England. They will then face Baltimore and San Diego in prime time nationally televised games along with a visit by San Francisco all in the first five weeks of the season.
Steelers Update (9/9/15): Pittsburgh are now +2000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +1000 to win the AFC Conference and +200 to win the AFC North.