PITTSBURGH STEELS (9-7-1)
CAMPING: Latrobe, Pennsylvania
LAST YEAR: The Steelers reached the playoffs in QB Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, getting there with a mostly smoke and mirrors approach. The Steelers were 8-2-1 in one-scored games and 1-5 when the gap was nine or more points. They were upgraded in the playoffs, blowing themselves up in Kansas City in Roethlisberger’s last game. As the defense struggled on the run – finishing last – linebacker TJ Watt seemed worth every penny of his club-record deal, winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year after racking up an NFL-record 22 1/2 sacks . Rookie running back Najee Harris was just as good as expected, rushing for 1,667 total yards and 10 touchdowns. The passing game, however, has been pedestrian for most of the season and the inability to consistently get the ball downfield due to protection issues and a drop in accuracy from Roethlisberger when going in. depth combined to make Pittsburgh predictable and often outmatched against quality opponents.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Mitch Trubisky, QB Kenny Pickett, WR George Pickens, DE DeMarvin Leal, WR Calvin Austin III, LB Myles Jack, OL James Daniel, C Mason Cole, CB Levi Wallace, DT Larry Ogunjobi, WR Gunner Olszewski, GM Omar Khan (promoted to replace Kevin Colbert), assistant GM Kevin Weidl. Senior defensive assistant Brian Flores.
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Ben Roethlisberger (retired), DE Stephon Tuitt (retired), GM Kevin Colbert (retired), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR James Washington, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, TE Eric Ebron, LB Joe Schobert, OG Trai Turner, RT Zach Banner.
CAMP NEEDS: The Steelers return to Saint Vincent College for the first time since 2019 this summer and head to camp with a question mark at quarterback for the first time in a generation following Roethlisberger’s retirement. Maybe even bigger than the choke will be cohesion in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The offensive line has been revamped for the second time in as many seasons with the arrival of Daniel and Cole and the defensive line is hoping a fully recovered Tyson Alualu and late addition of Ogunjobi will give the perennial Pro Bowler Cam Heyward help needed.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: The three-way duel – for now – between Trubisky, Pickett and Mason Rudolph will dominate the conversation throughout August. Trubisky has worked almost exclusively with starters during organized team activities and minicamp, which means if he is to be dethroned, he will need to be outplayed by a considerable margin. There are few other real vacancies up for grabs, although Ogunjobi – if he’s healthy – could be in line to take the majority of defensive tackle snaps, which would allow Alualu to be more of a rotary player at 35.
EXPECTATIONS: There’s a sense that offensive coordinator Matt Canada met Roethlisberger in the middle last season in terms of what the offense would look like. Expect Canada to add several new wrinkles now that they have a few quarterbacks who, despite not having Roethlisberger’s resume, will be able to make plays out of pocket. The addition of Flores, who was fired by the Dolphins in January and then filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL over what he claims were racist hiring practices, gives head coach Mike Tomlin another mastermind to pick as a freshman defensive coordinator. Teryl Austin tries to restore some firmness to a defense that has sometimes been jostled.
FANDUEL SUPER BOWL ODDS: +7000
CLEVELAND MARRONS (8-9)
CAMPING: Berea, Ohio
LAST YEAR: Expected to make a run for the AFC title, the Browns failed. There was distracting drama, costly injuries and questionable strategy as coach Kevin Stefanski’s second season was completely opposite to his first, when the Browns won a playoff game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield never recovered from a shoulder injury in Week 2, and Cleveland’s offense spat despite a great line and playmakers. WR Odell’s messy outing Beckham ‘Jr. divided the locker room and the fan base. Led by All-Pro DE Myles Garrett, the Browns’ defense continued to improve over the season.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Amari Cooper, rookie K Cade York, DE Chase Winovich, QB Jacoby Brissett, C Ethan Pocic, rookie WR David Bell, P Corey Bojorquez, WR/KR Jakeem Grant.
MAJOR LOSSES: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Jarvis Landry, C JC Tretter, WR Odell Beckham Jr., K Chase McLaughlin, LB Mack Wilson, WR Rashard Higgins, CB Troy Hill, DT Malik Jackson, FB Andy Janovich, DT Malik McDowell, CB MJ Stewart.
CAMP NEEDS: Watson’s availability remains unknown as camp approaches. After months of legal issues and a hearing, the NFL’s disciplinary officer will decide whether he violated his personal conduct policy after being accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen massage therapists in Texas. If suspended for multiple games, the Browns will need to get replacement Jacoby Brissett ready to start the season. And depending on the length of Watson’s punishment, the team could pursue other QB options.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: Cooper wanted to leave Dallas and aspired to be a No. 1 receiver. He’ll get his chance with the Browns, who could rely more heavily on their heavy offense if Watson is out. Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie David Bell are placed behind Cooper and must show they are ready for expanded roles. Nick Harris takes over at center for the dependable Tretter, the NFLPA president released during the offseason. Cleveland’s No. 3 cornerback spot will be a battle between Greedy Williams and rookie Martin Emerson.
EXPECTATIONS: Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam went all-in with their trade for Watson — they gave up three first-round picks — and signed him to a five-year, fully guaranteed, $230 million deal. If their bet pays off and Watson plays this season, the Browns are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. If he’s out for a long stretch, it could be another wasted year for one of the most talented teams in the league. The 9/11 opener in Carolina will be interesting with a potential matchup against Mayfield, who was traded by the Browns after four up and down seasons.
FANDUEL SUPER BOWL ODDS: +3400