Around the North: Is Pittsburgh still top contender

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals look to make a run for the top of the AFC North in 2018, but are the Pittsburgh Steelers still the top contender for the Bengals?

The Cincinnati Bengals have plenty of question marks following an offseason of significant changes around the organization. With both sides of the ball expected to look much different in 2018, it’s hard to gauge what we should expect from the team in the upcoming season. As they look to take control of the AFC North in 2018, the Pittsburgh Steelers remain the team to beat but have plenty of question marks themselves.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was less than pleased with the team making another mid-round pick on a quarterback this offseason as he expressed his thoughts on the matter. He feels that the team should be focusing on players that can contribute now and help the team win in 2018 instead of looking for his successor. The problem is, with Roethlisberger contemplating retirement the last few seasons and taking it year to year, Pittsburgh feels that they need to find their next quarterback and develop him. They also need someone to sit behind Big Ben in case of injury with his past of injuries.

Roethlisberger is getting older, and unlike New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, he has shown some decline with his inconsistency in some games over the last couple seasons. Every season we all wonder if this will be the year the Steelers fall off and one of these years we will be right. Could 2018 be the year?

There’s also the situation with running back Le’Veon Bell who the Steelers placed the franchise tag on for the second consecutive season. Over the last year we have heard Bell talk about running backs needing to be paid more and even when offered the highest paid contract to a running back, Bell refused the offer. The tension is growing between Bell and the Steelers, and it could be another spot on the Steelers team that is falling apart.

Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals /

Cincinnati Bengals

We talked with Noah Strackbein of the Still Curtain (Steelers FanSided Page) following the free agency period, so I decided to check back in and see what he saw with the Steelers draft selections. We talked about how well the Steelers took care of their most prominent needs in the draft and what he expected their impact to be on the 2018 season.

“Knowing if the Steelers addressed their biggest need won’t be known until the season. They needed depth at safety and an inside linebacker. Coming away with Marcus Allen and Terrell Edmunds was huge, but they still don’t have anyone to play behind Jon Bostic and be the coverage man in the middle. Some say Edmunds could play safety and inside linebacker this season, and if he does, they’ll have one of the most complete defenses in the NFL. But right now, it’s still unknown how well they addressed their biggest need. ”

Pittsburgh addressed the safety position heavily this offseason with the free agent signing Morgan Burnett and then drafting two more with Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen. The Steelers took Edmunds with their first-round selection which surprised even analysts who thought he would be a third-round selection with the possibility to move up into the second. Noah, however, believes that Edmunds was the best safety that would fit their needs.

“Edmunds could’ve made his way to the second round, but Pittsburgh knew they wanted a safety who can play in dime packages and Edmunds was the best available. He’s an immediate role filler at safety and possibly inside linebacker so taking their chances in the second round wasn’t worth it. ”

Addressing the secondary was the big concern for Pittsburgh going into the draft, and they feel confident with what they’ve added this offseason. The biggest surprise for the Steelers was trading up ahead of the Bengals in the third-round to select Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph which Noah thinks was the best value pick of the draft.

“Mason Rudolph in the third round was unthinkable. Some people believed he was a first-round pick. He certainly has first-round talent and watching him fall surprised everyone. Giving up Martavis Bryant for him didn’t hurt this team at all, and now, they have their future franchise quarterback with time to learn behind Ben Roethlisberger.”

With the trade of wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round pick, Pittsburgh brought in a new wide receiver by selecting James Washington. He will likely take over the slot receiver role and if history has shown anything will have a good start to his career in Pittsburgh’s offense. Washington is also one of the players that Noah thinks will play a significant role in 2018.

“This season, the biggest impact will be from Edmunds and Washington. Washington will get the start at slot and should develop quick chemistry with Big Ben. He’s the perfect player for the scheme Pittsburgh likes to run so he’ll fit in perfectly. Edmunds will play everywhere and be an impact at linebacker and safety. He provides quality depth at both positions which were something the Steelers needed. Moving forward, Mason Rudolph will be the hottest name. He’s going to take over for Ben when he finally decided to retire. After learning behind Roethlisberger for a few years, he could take the NFL by force. Many people are hoping for a Brett Favre, Aaron Rogers situation, but with a better ending for Ben.”

It will be interesting to see how the Steelers do in 2018 with all of the drama in the organization. I’m most interested to see what the offense looks like under new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. Pittsburgh decided to let go of former coordinator Todd Haley who has since signed with the Cleveland Browns as their offensive coordinator and likely candidate for head coach position if Hue Jackson doesn’t succeed in 2018.

Related Story: Are the Ravens ready to compete in 2018

Will the offense show struggles with the change of offensive coordinators? Will Big Ben and Bell be able to use the chips on their shoulders to maintain their top ten offense in the league? This season feels like a very boom or bust season for Pittsburgh, and it all depends on Roethlisberger’s ability to still play at a high level and for the organization to drown out the noise and play four quarters of football.