All good points, but I still like the Chiefs. The Chiefs D is on the warpath right now. Justin Houston is a game-changer, and he'll have his way with the right side of Buffalo's O-line. Tyrod Taylor is going to get hurt. In a game that figures to be hard-hitting and relatively low-scoring, turnovers and penalties will be huge. That favors the Chiefs (Buffalo is arguably the most undisciplined squad in the NFL). I also like that the Chiefs are playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in about a month, while the Bills are on short rest.
RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Lance Moore, NT Cam Thomas, ILB Arthur Moats, CB Brice McCain, S Michael Mitchell, P Adam Podlesh.
Early Draft Picks:
ILB Ryan Shazier, DE/DT Stephon Tuitt, RB/WR Dri Archer, WR Martavis Bryant, CB Shaq Richardson. Steelers Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Jerricho Cotchery, TE David Johnson, OT Levi Brown, C Eric Olsen, DE/DT Ziggy Hood, NT Al Woods, DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, ILB Larry Foote, S Ryan Clark.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense:
It's odd that Ben Roethlisberger just had one of the best seasons of his career, yet the Steelers failed to make the playoffs. Roethlisberger threw for 4,261 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions despite beginning the year slowly - he had six scores and six picks in the first four games. Roethlisberger caught fire late, so the Steelers will be hoping that he can carry that over into 2014.
Unfortunately for Roethlisberger, he lost a starting receiver in the offseason, as Emmanuel Sanders bolted for Denver. Of course, Roethlisberger still has Antonio Brown, who became the first wideout in NFL history to post five or more catches for 50-plus yards in all 16 games. Brown finished with 110 receptions, but a second receiver will have to step up across from him. There are some promising candidates. Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round rookie, is raw, but has loads of potential. Then there's Markus Wheaton, who was chosen in the third round in 2013. Wheaton barely played last year, however.
Roethlisberger will at least have a healthy tight end and some weapons out of the backfield to work with. Heath Miller missed a couple of games in 2013, but wasn't nearly 100 percent because he was coming off a torn ACL. He'll be more effective this season. Meanwhile, Le'Veon Bell proved to be well worth the second-round choice that Pittsburgh spent on him last April. Bell, who didn't enter the lineup until Week 4 because of an injury, hauled in 45 receptions and did well on third downs.
The Steelers won't be totally screwed if Bell is out of the lineup again. They bolstered their backfield, as they just used a third-rounder on Dri Archer, who figures to serve in a Darren Sproles-type capacity. The front office also signed LeGarrette Blount, who turned around his career in New England. It seems odd that Blount would walk away from a starting job with the Patriots, even if it's for more money, but either way, he'll be an upgrade over last year's backups, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
Something that helped Roethlisberger last season was the improved play of the offensive line. Roethlisberger has always been knocked around because of poor blocking, but that changed in 2013. The top two blockers were guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro, both of whom surrendered only two sacks each. They'll sandwich Maurkice Pouncey, who barely played this past season because he tore his ACL and MCL. He has fully participated in OTAs, so having him back will only improve the front.
Meanwhile, left tackle Kelvin Beachum provided some stability that the Steelers haven't had at that position. Beachum stepped into the role in relief of an ineffective Mike Adams in October and did a good job of protecting Roethlisberger's blind side, surrendering just one sack in his final six games of the season. He'll start across from the inconsistent Marcus Gilbert, who permitted 11 sacks in 2013. However, Gilbert was coming off a season-ending ankle injury, so perhaps he wasn't completely healthy.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense:
The Steelers had always been known for an incredibly intense defense that generated tons of pressure on the quarterback, but this unit hasn't done that the past three seasons. In fact, they were slow defensively this past year, as they surrendered an uncharacteristic 23.1 points per game. Changes had to be made to help Pittsburgh get back to its old ways, so the front office did a few things this offseason to help bolster the stop unit.
The big thing the Steelers were able to accomplish was spending their first-round pick on Ryan Shazier, a very speedy linebacker out of Ohio State. The inside linebacker situation was not a good one in 2013, as Lawrence Timmons had a down year, and Vince Williams was even worse. Shazier will provide a massive upgrade over Williams, and perhaps he'll help Timmons return to form.
Pittsburgh also used its second-round choice on a defender, grabbing Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame. Tuitt was considered a first-round prospect heading into the 2013 season, but he gained bad weight, per the coaches' request, and performed sluggishly. Tuitt could be a very effective player if he sheds the extra pounds, so the Steelers did well to buy low. Tuitt figures to start with Cameron Heyward, a former first-rounder who finally lived up to his billing last year, and Steve McLendon, who proved to be a capable run-stuffing nose tackle who was able to replace long-time Steeler Casey Hampton effectively.
The Steelers also signed Michael Mitchell in free agency. Once considered a second-round Al Davis bust, Mitchell had a great 2013 campaign in Carolina. Mitchell will provide Pittsburgh with some much-needed young blood in the secondary, as he'll start next to Troy Polamalu, replacing 34-year-old Ryan Clark, who wasn't very good this past season. However, the concern is that Mitchell was just the byproduct of Carolina's prolific front seven. The Steelers no longer have the pass-rushing presence they once maintained, so will Mitchell regress without Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short collapsing the pocket?
Mitchell will also have to compensate for some poor corner play. That doesn't include Cortez Allen, who was solid in 2013, beginning the year as the nickel and eventually emerging as a starter. However, the Steelers failed to find an upgrade over Ike Taylor, who was just absolutely atrocious this past season, unless he was covering A.J. Green, as strange as that sounds. Taylor was burned week after week, yet he's still slated to start.
A stronger pass rush would help cover up Taylor's mistakes. Unfortunately for the Steelers, there's a good chance that they won't have one. They managed to retain Jason Worilds, who led the team with eight sacks. However, LaMarr Woodley is gone, while first-round rookie Jarvis Jones proved to be a huge disappointment. Jones barely did anything in 2013, though he did flash in the season finale against Cleveland.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule and Intangibles:
Excluding New England, no one in the AFC has a better road record than Pittsburgh since 1996; the Steelers are 77-67 as visitors in that time frame. They're not bad at home either (104-43-1).
Shaun Suisham had an exceptional 2013 campaign, hitting 30-of-32 attempts, though he didn't attempt any from 50-plus. Suisham is just 3-of-10 from that range dating back to 2008.
The Steelers had major punting issues this past season, and that will probably be the case again in 2014 because their punter is someone named Brad Wing.
Pittsburgh at least thrived on punt returns, as Antonio Brown took a score back to the house.
The Steelers don't have a tough schedule. Excluding Cincinnati, Pittsburgh battles only four teams that made the playoffs this past season, and two of them - Chiefs, Panthers - are projected to decline. The other two - Indianapolis, New Orleans - have to go to Pittsburgh.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies:
Go here for the Steelers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis: The Steelers are a candidate to rebound. They finished the 2013 season on a strong note, winning six of their final eight games. They made some improvements to their roster and have an easy schedule to navigate through. They could easily find themselves champions of the AFC North once again.
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Steelers have lost two starting receivers in as many offseasons, so they'll need to find some help for Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Evans at No. 15 would be a wet dream. More realistically, Pittsburgh could find some help at cornerback and then focus on getting a new wideout a bit later. Getting an upgrade or two in the front seven is also a must.
2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Steelers had a fantastic draft. Some might think that No. 15 was too early for Ryan Shazier, but I know for a fact that a team picking soon after them was ready to pounce on the speedy Ohio State linebacker. The next selection, Stephon Tuitt, provided ridiculous value, given that he was once viewed as a first-round prospect. The other defensive player, Shaq Richardson, is a tall corner who should help improve the secondary a bit.
The Steelers also added some needed play-makers on offense. Dri Archer will serve as a Darren Sproles-type weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, while the athletically gifted Martavis Bryant will have a chance to start right away despite being chosen in the fourth round.
The only reason Pittsburgh isn't getting a pure "A" is because it waited so long to address the cornerback position. However, that certainly doesn't spoil this great class that the front office put together.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
15. Ryan Shazier, ILB, Ohio State: B Grade
Talente prospects tend to fall to the Steelers - David DeCastro and then Jarvis Jones - but that wasn't the case this year. That's fine because the Steelers are still making a decent selection. Ryan Shazier is a speedy linebacker who will upgrade the middle of the defense. Pittsburgh's defense was very slow last year, so Shazier was taken to compensate for that.
46. Stephon Tuitt, DE/DT, Notre Dame: A Grade
The best pick in the second round thus far. Stephon Tuitt was once seen as a first-round prospect. He struggled in 2013, but only because he put on a lot of bad weight. He has a lot of natural talent though, so if Pittsburgh can coach him up, it'll finally find the answer at defensive end that it has been looking for this entire time. The Texans were considering Tuitt at No. 33, so the Steelers are getting great value.
97. Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State: B+ Grade
Pro Football Talk had Dri Archer in the first round of their mock draft, so they must love this value for the Steelers. In reality, Archer was always seen as a third-round prospect. This is a solid choice, as Pittsburgh didn't have anyone on its roster who resembled what Archer will bring to the table. He can serve as a Darren Sproles-type weapon for Ben Roethlisberger.
118. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson: A+ Grade
There's no reason Martavis Bryant should have lasted this long. He's a freak-of-nature receiver who could evolve into a Pro Bowl-caliber talent if coached right. He's very raw, so he has lots of work in front of him, but the Steelers are getting a steal in the middle of the fourth round while filling a need.
157. Shaq Richardson, CB, Arizona: B+ Grade
Shaq Richardson was seen by some as a fourth-rounder, so this is decent value. Richardson is a tall corner, which Pittsburgh likes, and he happens to fill a huge need on the roster. The Steelers had to improve this area earlier.
173. Wesley Johnson, C/OT/G, Vanderbilt: B+ Grade
Some figured the Steelers would go offensive line earlier, but that wasn't very realistic because it wasn't such a need. Depth had to be addressed though, and Wesley Johnson can play most of the positions on the front. Solid pick.
192. Jordan Zumwalt, ILB, UCLA: B+ Grade
I thought the Steelers would select two inside linebackers in the draft, given their depth issues. Jordan Zumwalt makes sense for that reason. He also provides some decent value, as some viewed him as a Round 4-5 prospect.
215. Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee: A+ Grade
I don't understand why Daniel McCullers fell this far. He is far too talented to go at the very end of the sixth round. The Steelers are getting a steal all while addressing a position of need. Their fans have to be thrilled with this selection.
230. Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass: B Grade
Heath Miller doesn't have much time left, so the Steelers were expected to take a tight end. This is later than I expected, but Rob Blanchflower fits the range.
Ah, if only the officials knew the rules. The refs completely screwed up in the Kansas City-San Diego Week 17 contest, failing to call the Chargers for an illegal defensive formation on Ryan Succop's missed field goal at the end of regulation. Succop probably would've drilled the shorter try and thus would've knocked San Diego out of the playoffs, allowing Pittsburgh to sneak into the postseason. It's a shame for the Steelers, as they finished the year on an 8-4 run.
Cardinals sign ILB Larry Foote
Steelers sign P Adam Podlesh
Titans sign C Eric Olsen
Steelers sign WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Steelers sign CB Brice McCain
Redskins sign S Ryan Clark
Steelers sign RB LeGarrette Blount
Steelers sign ILB Arthur Moats
Steelers sign WR Lance Moore
Panthers sign WR Jerricho Cotchery
Steelers re-sign OT Guy Whimper
Broncos sign WR Emmanuel Sanders
Steelers sign NT Cam Thomas
Raiders sign DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley
Jaguars sign DE/DT Ziggy Hood
Cardinals sign RB Jonathan Dwyer
Chargers sign TE David Johnson
Titans sign NT Al Woods
Steelers sign S Michael Mitchell
Steelers cut DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley
Steelers cut ILB Larry Foote
Steelrs cut OT Levi Brown
Steelers waive CB Curtis Brown
Steelers re-sign S Will Allen
Steelers transition tag DE/OLB Jason Worilds
Cornerback: Pittsburgh had major problems covering No. 1 receivers all year because Ike Taylor was absolutely brutal. He'll need to be upgraded, and the Steelers should probably choose a corner with one of their top two selections.
Defensive End: Cameron Heyward finally played up to his first-round billing, but Ziggy Hood continued to struggle. An upgrade is needed at his position, though there's talk that nose tackle Steve McLendon could be moved there, opening up a hole at nose tackle. This can be filled with the 15th-overall pick this May.
Wide Receiver: Mike Wallace definitely wasn't worth the money, but the Steelers now lack a speed threat on their offense. They will take a receiver if one of the top three prospects at the position falls to them at No. 15. Signed Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey
Safety: With Ryan Clark and Will Allen hitting free agency, the Steelers will have to replenish depth at this position. They may also need a starter if they don't think Shamarko Thomas is ready to step into the lineup. Signed Michael Mitchell; re-signed Will Allen
Inside Linebacker: The Steelers can probably do better than Vince Williams starting next to Lawrence Timmons, though the 2013 sixth-rounder could improve. Signed Arthur Moats
Outside Linebacker: Jarvis Jones disappointed as a rookie. In fact, Jason Worilds stepped up instead. Worilds, however, is an impending free agent. Transition tagged Jason Worilds
Offensive Tackle: Kelvin Beachum actually shored up the left tackle position in the second half of the season, but can he keep it up going forward? Pittsburgh should probably acquire some insurance. Re-signed Guy Whimper
Center Depth: Maurkice Pouncey is coming off a torn ACL and MCL. The Steelers signed Fernando Velasco last year as a replacement. He performed well, but he tore his Achilles on Thanksgiving.
Tight End: Heath Miller, 32 in October, looked a bit sluggish last season, though he was returning from a torn ACL. Still, Pittsburgh may want to get younger at the position.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots. Age: 27. Signed with Steelers (2 years)
LeGarrette Blount has turned his career around in New England. Tampa Bay thoughtlessly discarded him, yet Blount was able to find a home with the Patriots. He averaged five yards per carry in 2013, though he still isn't any sort of factor in the passing game.
Michael Mitchell, S, Panthers. Age: 27. Signed with Steelers
Everyone laughed at Al Davis when he selected Michael Mitchell in the second round, but Mitchell was pretty decent in coverage this past year.
Lance Moore, WR, Saints. Age: 31. Signed with Steelers
I don't usually give write-ups for 1.5-star players, but Lance Moore is a big name, so I'll make the exception. Moore could be overvalued by a few because of his big name, but I'd like to believe that most see Moore as a product of Sean Payton and Drew Brees. After all, Moore has never played without Brees. Without Brees, he's just an ordinary slot receiver who will turn 31 in August.
Arthur Moats, ILB, Bills. Age: 26. -- Signed with Steelers (1 year)
Cam Thomas, NT, Chargers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Steelers (2 years)
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Colts. Age: 27. -- Signed with Steelers
Adam Podlesh, P, Bears. Age: 31. -- Signed with Steelers
Brice McCain, CB, Texans. Age: 27. -- Signed with Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
LaMarr Woodley, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 29. Signed with Raiders (2 years, $12 million)
LaMarr Woodley notched 13.5 sacks in 2009 and then nine sacks in just 10 games two years later. However, it's all been downhill since then. He was out of shape and consequently mustered only four sacks in 2012. He got off to a hot start last season, logging a sack in all but one of his first six games, but a calf injury derailed the second half of his 2013 campaign. Woodley has major potential to bounce back if he can stay healthy and motivated, but he's definitely an injury risk.
Jason Worilds, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 26. Transition tagged by Steelers (chance to match offer)
The Steelers didn't think much of Jason Worilds, so they opted to spend a first-round pick on Jarvis Jones. Instead of Jones playing well, Worilds stepped up with a solid 2013 campaign.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers. Age: 27. Signed with Broncos
The Steelers could've turned Emmanuel Sanders into a third-round pick last offseason. They're probably regretting not pulling the trigger. Sanders is a sub-par No. 2 wideout.
Ryan Clark, S, Steelers. Age: 35. Signed with Redskins (1 year)
Ryan Clark, 35 in October, is no longer the quality safety he used to be. He has struggled at times this season and has hinted at retirement.
Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers. Age: 25. Signed with Cardinals (1 year)
Jonathan Dwyer is a quality pass protector and can get the needed distance in short-yardage situations.
Ziggy Hood, DE/DT, Steelers. Age: 27. Signed with Jaguars
Ziggy Hood, a former first-round pick, has been a huge disappointment. Perhaps he can eventually live up to expectations, but time is running out.
Will Allen, S, Steelers. Age: 32. -- Re-signed with Steelers
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Steelers. Age: 32. -- Signed with Panthers
Brett Keisel, DE/DT, Steelers. Age: 35.
Fernando Velasco, C, Steelers. Age: 29.
Larry Foote, ILB, Steelers. Age: 34. -- Signed with Cardinals (1 year)
David Johnson, TE, Steelers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Chargers (2 years)
Levi Brown, OT, Steelers. Age: 30.
Al Woods, NT, Steelers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Titans
Eric Olsen (RFA), C, Steelers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Titans
Felix Jones, RB, Steelers. Age: 27.
Guy Whimper, OT, Steelers. Age: 31. -- Re-signed with Steelers (1 year)