For the first time in the history of their franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-0. They have beaten elite teams like the Ravens and the Titans and have beaten quality teams like the Browns and Eagles very convincingly. They are out-scoring their opponents by nearly 13 points on average. What is not to love about the Steelers?
The NFL is an interesting sport because it plays two entirely different games: the regular season and the playoffs. The playoffs are completely different. Teams that dominate throughout the regular season look completely different in the playoffs and vice versa. When it comes to the playoffs, the most important thing is having the better combination of your quarterback and your coaching. It is extremely important.
Over the past 2 years, there have only been 4 clear quarterback-coach upsets. In 2018, the Cowboys upset the Seahawks. Last year in 2019, the Viking upset the Saints and the Titans upset both the Patriots and the Ravens. Across 22 games, there were only 4 quarterback-coach upsets. There was a reason for all of them, though. The Cowboys upset the Seahawks because Seattle refused to let Russ do anything, and last year, the Titans and Vikings both had an elite run game that took advantage of underperforming teams.
So what does this all say about Pittsburgh? Well, nothing good. Despite having a very good coaching staff, the Steelers have a very mediocre quarterback. Roethlisberger has not been as impressive as you may think. A very good stat to show offensive production is DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). The Pittsburgh passing offense is ranked 17th in DVOA. They are a 8-0 team with below-average passing efficiency. Roethlisberger doesn’t throw it downfield as much as he should for a team competing for a superbowl. His intended air yards per attempt has only been 6.7 through 2020. If you can’t pass the ball downfield, you won’t survive in the playoffs.
Because of Ben Roethlisberger’s declining talent, I would estimate the Steelers to be quarterback-coach underdogs in 4 AFC playoff matchups (Chiefs, Ravens, Bills, and Titans). I almost guarantee that they play at least 2 of these teams in the playoffs. Being underdogs in 2 games is not ideal, but being an underdog isn’t the end of the world. The Titans had two quarterback-coach upsets just last year. Why can’t the Steelers do that?
The Titans had incredible production running the football last year. Their upset over the Patriots was no surprise to me. The Steelers don’t have that kind of production running the ball. Their running game is ranked 15th in DVOA. They are not an efficient offense in any sense and there is no way they could get multiple upsets in the playoffs.
There is no denying their talent on defense. They have the second ranked defense in DVOA. They have an elite defense, but that doesn’t mean much in the playoffs if you have below average offensive production. Last year, the better offensive team won 9 times out of 11 and the better defensive team won 5 out of 11 times. Defense doesn’t win championships; offense does.
The Steelers will continue to impress throughout the regular season. I project them to have 14 wins by the end of the year. Don’t let them fool you. They are not an elite team and are a long-shot to make a significant playoff run.
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