Last season, the Steelers' performance was less than stellar. I know a lot of teams would kill for a 9-7 record, but in the Steel City, that just doesn't cut it. Over the offseason, we've had to deal with Ben Roethlisberger's domestic problems (and subsequent 4-6 game suspension) and we've lost one of our best offensive linemen for the year. This isn't good for a team that has high expectations year in and year out. In the wake of this, can we expect to see an improvement from the Steelers after last season's disappointment?
Finding an interim QB for Big Ben is the first obstacle. Personally, I would like to see Dennis Dixon take over. I was impressed with his one game against the Ravens, and I think he's got the talent to do good things for a few weeks. It will more than likely be Charlie Batch, though, because he is way more experienced. The offensive line will be a big problem no matter who's lining up under center, but that's something the Steelers have had to grapple with for several years now. I expect to see a lot more productivity from Rashard Mendenhall as well. With a questionable QB situation, he'll be needed to grind out some tough yardage.
Another thing the Steelers will have to look at is the strength of the division. The Bengals and Ravens have closed the gap competitively, and the Browns are slowly creeping up. If the Steelers want to make any progress, they'll have to win the divisional games. They also need to stay sharp in the "soft" games and not blow wins like they did against the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns. This year, the soft games are against Tampa Bay, Oakland, and possibly Carolina. Beyond that, the Steelers will have to work for every win.
The last time the Steelers turned in a poor season (2006, when they went 8-8) they followed up by reaching the playoffs (in 2007 they went 10-6, won the AFC North and lost on Wild Card Weekend to the Jaguars). After that, they were back in the Super Bowl. So, will a similar pattern emerge here? Maybe. Normally I would predict a record for this season, but with so much up in the air, your guess is as good as mine.