August 16, 2011

2011 Pittsburgh Steelers Team Preview and Prediction

The Pittsburgh Steelers somewhat unexpectedly won the AFC championship last year for the third time in the last six seasons. But the last couple of times Pittsburgh has played as the defending champs things haven’t gone too well.

Last year most sportsbooks sent the Steelers off at right around 5/2 to win the AFC North and 10/1 to win the AFC, with a regular-season wins over/under of 8.5. Remember, QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the season. The Steelers then managed to start 3-1 with Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon behind center, and finished 9-3 with Big Ben.

After another playoff victory over Baltimore, Pittsburgh then benefited from the Jets’ upset of the Patriots to host the AFC championship game, and beat those Jets to win the AFC. But the Steelers lost the Super Bowl to Green Bay, committing three turnovers, including an ill-advised Ben Roethlisberger interception returned for a score and a costly fourth-quarter fumble by RB Rashard Mendenhall.

Playing above expectations the Steelers went 10-6 ATS last year. And they were 7-9 on the over/unders, as Pittsburgh games averaged 38 total points.

Offensively the Steelers ranked 14th last year at 345 YPG, 11th in rushing at 120 YPG and third in time-of-possession at 32:12.

Defensively Pittsburgh ranked second overall, allowing just 277 YPG, and first (by a wide margin) vs. the run, giving up a stingy 63 YPG on the ground.

For whatever reasons, whether it’s injuries or lack of focus or a jinx, the last two times the Steelers have played in the Super Bowl they’ve missed the playoffs the following season. After beating Seattle a few years ago in Super Bowl XL Pittsburgh then started the 2006 season by losing three of its first four games and finished at 8-8. Then, after defeating Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers suffered through a late-season five-game losing streak to finish 9-7 and home for the postseason.

Pittsburgh didn’t do a whole lot over the off-season, preferring instead to keep to their plan of signing the guys they’ve already got. So they’re basically the same team that played in the last Super Bowl. But the Steelers are a bit thin at places, and a bit old on defense, where most of the starters are in their thirties.

Pittsburgh’s schedule calls for six games vs. teams that made the playoffs last year, plus games at Houston, Arizona and San Francisco. Overall the Steelers slate is tied for the fourth-easiest in the league.

Bodog.com is listing Pittsburgh at even-money to win the AFC North this season, 13/2 to win the AFC again and 14/1 to win the Super Bowl, with a wins O/U of 10.5. The Steelers are obviously still contenders for the conference title, but we’re a little leery of their recent track record in seasons after making the Super Bowl. So despite their relatively easy schedule we’ll take the under 10.5 on the Pittsburgh wins total.

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