The Pittsburgh Steelers fell victim to the juggernaut of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, ending their season one game short of the Super Bowl.
Mike Tomlin’s men overcame a mid-season injury to Ben Roethlisberger to keep themselves on track in the playoff race, with the quarterback able to return after a short absence.
The 35-year-old led a number of clutch drives late in the term to secure the AFC North title, including a thrilling contest to see off the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.
Their playoff pedigree was on full display in a convincing win over the Miami Dolphins and a battling road win against the Kansas City Chiefs before travelling to Foxborough.
However, an early injury to Le’Veon Bell summed up their performance as they were brushed aside by Bill Belichick’s men with ease, ending the club’s first deep surge into the post-season since the 2010 campaign.
Roethlisberger hinted that he could retire following the defeat, but he failed to follow through with his suggestion, although the words will send fear down the spines of Tomlin and the Steelers’ hierarchy.
Due to the quarterback’s injury problems – time is running out in their championship window, making the need to assemble a strong roster for another charge a huge priority.
We’ll now look back at the Steelers’ 2016 campaign and see what they can do to take the next step and advance to Super Bowl LII.
The Steelers were without Bell for their opener against the Redskins, but were able to ease past the NFC East outfit with relative ease due to the running ability of DeAngelo Williams, rushing for over 100 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Pittsburgh and the Cincinnati Bengals met in a fiery encounter in the 2015 post-season and their first match of the 2016 campaign did not disappoint for an encore. A late comeback attempt from Andy Dalton and the Bengals was thwarted allowing the Steelers to move to 2-0.
However, their worst display of the term came out of nowhere in a 34-3 hammering at the hands of their state rivals the Philadelphia Eagles.
For as bad as their loss to the Eagles, the Steelers responded by thumping the Kansas City Chiefs to get back on track, while they brushed aside the New York Jets, with Roethlisberger starring with a four-touchdown display.
Tomlin’s men were derailed in their clash with the Dolphins, losing Roethlisberger to injury before allowing Jay Ajayi to run all over their defense in a 200-yard performance to guide the AFC East outfit to a 30-15 win.
Without their starting quarterback, Landry Jones was forced to play against the Patriots and although he had a decent outing, Tom Brady pulled his side away from the Steelers in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger returned after the bye week, but didn’t seem to be fully recovered from his ankle injury against the Baltimore Ravens, allowing John Harbaugh’s men to clinch a crucial win.
The Cowboys were next to visit Heinz Field, but Pittsburgh were the latest side to discover the talent of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Roethlisberger and Brown attempted to haul their side to victory in the fourth quarter, only for Elliott to rush for a late score to secured a road win for his team.
Pittsburgh needed to repair the damage after falling to 4-5 in their season and their response was emphatic, brushing aside the Cleveland Browns with ease.
They accepted a gift in their next outing defeating the Indianapolis Colts without Andrew Luck to get back above .500.
Roethlisberger raised the level of his game against the New York Giants, throwing two touchdown strikes against a stout defensive unit to deliver the win.
Bell took centre stage a week later as his quarterback struggled in the snow against the Buffalo Bills, with three interceptions.
The back ran for 236 yards and three scores putting the Bills to the sword, strengthening his claim as the best at his position in the game.
Pittsburgh fell into a hole against the Bengals on the road, but the boot of Chris Boswell kept them in contention before Roethlisberger found Eli Rogers to notch the victory.
The Steelers needed another clutch display from their two best players against the Ravens. Trailing by three points and with their playoff hopes on the line, Roethlisberger fired the ball to Brown, who extended over the ball over the line to snatch the win.
The result secured the third seed, which set Pittsburgh up against the Dolphins – without a number of key players, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Two early Brown scores sealed the game in the first quarter guiding the club into the divisional round.
Boswell kicked six field goals to put the Steelers eight points ahead late in their clash with the Chiefs, but they needed a defensive stand from a two-point conversion to advance to the AFC title game.
However, their trip to Foxborough ended in a hammering, leaving the club at a potential crossroads.
The Steelers will be boosted by the return of Martavis Bryant following his year-long suspension for breaking the NFL’s regulations regarding substances of abuse.
The 25-year-old was the club’s big-play threat downfield in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and his absence loomed large, especially in their defeat to the Patriots where there was no-one else to release the pressure on Brown.
Pittsburgh have been prudent in free agency thus far, adding defensive lineman Tyson Alualu along with wide receiver Justin Hunter and Coty Sensabaugh, while retaining the services of David Johnson and backup quarterback Landry Jones.
Veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons departed for the Dolphins, leaving a potential leadership void in the middle of the defense. Ryan Shazier played well last term, but his injury history is a concern for the club, especially after failing to land Dont’a Hightower in free agency.
Jarvis Jones and Markus Wheaton also left the club, with neither player managing to live up to their potential. As a result of their failings, there is a little bit of pressure on general manager Kevin Colbert to deliver in this draft after a collection of misfires in recent seasons.
It’s not out of the question for the Steelers to be looking at quarterbacks, especially if one of the top men drop to them at number 30 overall – where they could be too much value to pass up.
Other than quarterback – Pittsburgh may once again look to the secondary. Although they used their top two selections on cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis last term – there’s a great deal of talent available in the draft that could provide answers to the problems that Brady and the Patriots caused in the AFC Championship game.
The Steelers’ problems over the past few years have been injuries to their key men. When Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell were all fit and firing, Tomlin’s men were arguably the most dangerous side in the NFL, with their defense playing complementary football to aid the offense.
However, that issue reared its head in the AFC Championship game, with Bell leaving the match early due to a groin problem, although his presence may not have had much of an impact on the result anyway.
Despite that keeping the trio fit for the entirety of the campaign is challenge presented to Tomlin and the medical staff, ensuring that the Steelers can clinch one of the top two seeds to reduce their playing time in January and have the road to the Super Bowl go through Heinz Field.
If Pittsburgh can produce a 14 or 13-win season – then they may be able to get the Patriots coming to them rather than vice versa allowing their raucous crowd to get into the match.
As a result, backing them at +700 to win the AFC Conference with TopBet sportsbook could be solid option as they are capable of beating anyone on their day.
It also makes them at intriguing bet to win the Super Bowl at +1500 , although Tomlin and his side know it will take a huge effort to topple the Patriots.
Pittsburgh Steelers To Win AFC Conference
Pittsburgh Steelers To Win Super Bowl
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