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Steelers’ odds for each playoff seed in 2016

With no more preseason games standing between them and the real games, the Steelers can put behind them a summer of buzzkill developments that has somewhat quieted the Super Bowl buzz that surrounded them.

First Martavis Bryant was suspended for the year. Then Ladarius Green, the Steelers’ biggest free-agent signing, was nothing more than a model for the Steelers bucket hat in training camp and will start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Then Le’Veon Bell was suspended for the first three games.

According to ESPN.com, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Steelers at 10-1 odds to win Super Bowl LI as of Aug. 29. They opened at 8-1 after coming within three minutes of beating the eventual Super Bowl winners last year without Antonio Brown, Bell, DeAngelo Williams and a fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger.

Before we start talking about the Stairway to Seven, however, the Steelers have to earn one of the six AFC playoff spots. Let’s put odds on each seed, from the least likely to the most likely.

No. 1: 15-1

History has shown that the Steelers tend to reach the Super Bowl when they’re not necessarily anointed as Super Bowl contenders. Considering all the accolades thrown the Steelers’ way this offseason, they’re bound to slip up a little here and there. The Steelers are depending on their offense to carry them to the Super Bowl, but there might be some weeks when it just doesn’t click.

Look for an 11-5 finish, which will probably get them into the playoffs but not quite be enough to edge out the Bengals for the AFC North title. That makes the top seed the Steelers’ least likely playoff position.

No playoffs: 15-1

No team is guaranteed a playoff berth, and the Steelers came out of the preseason with some ominous injuries.

Cameron Heyward, their best defensive player and leader of the unit, suffered a high ankle sprain and isn’t certain to play in the season opener Sept. 12 at Washington. His backup, Ricardo Mathews, had an impressive preseason but suffered a neck injury in the preseason finale. If the Steelers are without both of them in the opener, unproven L.T. Walton could be pressed into duty.

At linebacker, Bud Dupree didn’t set foot on the field in the preseason because of a groin injury. The four-man rotation the Steelers employed at the position last year will be reduced to James Harrison, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones for the start of the season. It would be nice if the light suddenly came on for Jones or if Anthony Chickillo turns out to be a sixth-round steal.

On the offensive line, Marcus Gilbert suffered an elbow injury in the third preseason game. His chances of playing in Week 1 seem better than Heyward’s, but if the right tackle can’t go Ryan Harris will probably take his place. Harris graded 53rd out of 77 tackles last year according to Pro Football Focus via Pro Football Rumors. He’d be a steep downgrade from Gilbert.

The Steelers also are left in the lurch at tight end with Green on the shelf. Jesse James is the starter by default. Xavier Grimble was a star in offseason workouts but once the pads came on he became roster-bubble material.

These injuries create a nagging feeling that whatever can go wrong will go wrong this year, and enough could go wrong to keep the Steelers out of the playoffs.

No. 2: 12-1

If the Steelers somehow win the division with that predicted 11-5 record, there’s an outside chance it would earn them a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Patriots and Broncos have monopolized the top two seeds in recent years, but it will be harder for the Broncos to keep that trend going without Peyton Manning.

No. 4: 8-1

The odds that the Steelers will have to play a wild-card game are better than the aforementioned Westgate odds for them to win the Super Bowl. The Chiefs, who play at Pittsburgh in Week 4, could ride the momentum of last year’s 10-game winning streak and claim one of the top three seeds.

No. 3: 7-1

Whoever wins the AFC North probably will have a better record than the AFC South winner. The Colts have a mediocre defense at best and can’t protect Andrew Luck. The jury is out on whether the Texans have a franchise quarterback in Brock Osweiler. The up-and-coming Jaguars could snag the division title with a 9-7 record. That makes the No. 3 seed the best bet for the Steelers if they win the AFC North.

No. 6: 5-1

The Steelers were 11-5 when they won Super Bowl XL as the No. 6 seed in 2005. This year, the Broncos’ defense could get them a wild-card berth even if their offense takes a step back. The Raiders entered the offseason with a promising young core and then added a lot of key pieces in free agency. The Jets are heading in the right direction after being in a position to make the playoffs in Week 17 last year. Some team among that pack of wild-card hopefuls could push the Steelers’ down to the sixth seed.

No. 5: 4-1

The No. 5 seed doesn’t evoke the same pleasant memories as the No. 6 seed does for Steelers fans. The last time the Steelers were the No. 5 seed, Tim Tebow sent them home. Teams that have the stuff to win the Super Bowl but can’t finish first in a strong division often end up as the No. 5 seed, and that’s probably what’s going to happen to the Steelers in 2016. As they learned in 2011, it’s a treacherous path to the Super Bowl, but winning that seventh championship won’t be as easy as some have made it out to be.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

 

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