New York (KDKA)- Each year when the NFL season rolls around, everyone usually pencils the Steelers in at the top of the AFC North division, expected to make a playoff run.
This year, things feel a little bit different. The team across the Ohio River, the Cleveland Browns, have been the toast of the town this offseason. The Browns and Steelers currently hold the same 20-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Within the division, the Ravens have also been a big topic of conversation heading into the season with quarterback Lamar Jackson entering his first full season as a starter following a strong finish to last season.
With the Chiefs, Patriots and Chargers all expected to make noise once again, Mike Tomlin’s crew seems to be entering the season with not much expected of them.
“For the first time, they are kind of flying under the radar a little bit because all of the talk has been about Baker Mayfield and Odell up in Cleveland,” said The NFL Today analyst Bill Cowher in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith at NFL on CBS Media Day. “Then there is Lamar Jackson’s second year in Baltimore after making the playoffs last year and then Zac Taylor coming in as the new coach in Cincinnati. That whole division has something to be looking forward to this year.”
The slight fade into the background is understandable without wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell in the fold. Those two players brought plenty of headlines and star power to the team and in their absence, the pressure seems to fall back on the last man in town, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Cowher’s advice for his former protege?
“The biggest thing is don’t try to do too much,” said Cowher. “I think he is in that mode right now where he wants to prove that we’re more than just those players, that we’re more of a team. Ben looks like he is in great shape but I think the biggest thing for him is to make sure that he doesn’t try to do too much and take too much upon his own shoulders and rely on everybody that he has.”
What Ben has is a 111-catch, 1,400-yard receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster and a workhorse running back in James Conner (1,470 total yards in 2018) behind an offensive line that is among the league’s best.
“We’ll see how they get through the preseason and whether they come through it healthy. But, the offensive and defensive lines are very solid and if they can stay healthy, they are going to be a tough out,” said Cowher.
Regardless of whether they come out of preseason in good health, the first week of the season is going to provide a massive test for Mike Tomlin and company as a Sunday Night Football date with the New England Patriots in Foxborough awaits on September 8th.