Steelers early 2021 regular-season preview: Weeks 3-4
While Pittsburgh Steelers fans wait for training camp, this is the perfect time to do an early 2021 NFL regular-season preview for the team. Previously we took a look at the Steelers first two opponents in Weeks 1 and 2, the Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders. In part two of our ongoing series, we’ll cover Weeks 3 and 4 as the Steelers will host AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals, in their third week of the season before hitting the road to take on the Green Bay Packers.
In this preview, we’ll look at the Steelers’ opponents, additions those teams made via the 2021 NFL Draft and other key factors that could play a part in how the games may play out for the Steelers – and if they have a shot at winning the Super Bowl this season. (Currently the Steelers are tied with the Los Angeles Chargers for 17th-best NFL betting odds to win the Super Bowl at 35:1.)
Week Three: Steelers vs Bengals
Last season, the Steelers were able to handle Joe Burrow and the Bengals in their first meeting (Nov. 15) but they got behind in their second match, 17-0, in the first half with Ryan Finley as Cincinnati’s signal-caller. It was a split of the series that not many people would have predicted when Pittsburgh went on an 11-0 streak earlier in the season.
Burrow expects to be able to start the 2021 season after suffering a torn ACL and MCL, telling Cris Collinsworth on a Pro Football Focus podcast, “There’s still a long way to go, but I’m expecting to be there on the first snap of 2021. I’m expecting to play game one.” The Bengals would love nothing more than for their 2020 1st-round draft pick back in the lineup. With A.J. Green departed for the Arizona Cardinals and John Ross moving on to the New York Giants, the Bengals focused first on giving Burrow a target behind receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins while also beefing up their offensive and defensive lines. The selected the following players in this year’s NFL Draft:
- No. 5 – Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)
- No. 46 – Jackson Carman (OT, Clemson)
- No. 69 – Joseph Ossai (DE, Texas)
- No. 111 – Cameron Sample (DE, Tulane)
- No. 122 – Tyler Shelvin (DT, LSU)
- No. 139 – D’Ante Smith (OT, East Carolina)
- No. 149 – Evan McPherson (K, Florida)
- No. 190 – Trey Hill (C, Georgia)
- No. 202 – Chris Evans (RB, Michigan)
- No. 235 – Wyatt Hubert (DE, Kansas State)
The Bengals are still in the mode of creating a truly competitive team for the long term. 2021’s mantra is going to be, “protect Burrow,” without a doubt as they help him return to a form they saw him perform at before the knee injury ended his rookie season. Adding offensive tackle Riley Reiff helps but there is a lot of work to be done at camp for head coach Zac Taylor and his staff. The fact that the Bengals grabbed cornerback Mike Hilton during free agency likely will give Steelers fans something to bemoan, however.
Early prediction: Steelers win
Week Four: Steelers at Packers
The last time these two teams met was during the 2018 preseason. With backups in at key positions, for the most part, for both teams, it was a game that has little meaning to either team as they prepare for 2021. The most notable issue Green Bay is facing during this offseason is the ongoing saga or unrest between the organization and veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was named the 2020 NFL MVP after several years of just being a ‘good’ and not ‘great’ team.
Green Bay did what many teams in the NFL did during the 2021 Draft; they grabbed a couple of players that they feel will compete for critical ‘starter’ positions on the roster this season and then added depth players. Here are the players the Packers added:
- No. 29 – Eric Stokes (CB, Georgia)
- No. 62 – Josh Myers (C, Ohio State)
- No. 85 – Amari Rodgers (WR, Clemson)
- No. 142 – Royce Newman (OL, Ole Miss)
- No. 173 – T.J. Slaton (DT, Florida)
- No. 178 – Shemar Jean-Charles (CB, Appalachian State)
- No. 214 – Cole Van Lanen (OL, Wisconsin)
- No. 220 – Isaiah McDuffie (ILB, Boston College)
- No. 256 – Kylin Hill (RB, Mississippi State)
People were preparing their A. Rodgers to A. Rodgers jokes when the Packers took the rookie wideout from Clemson, but with the quarterback controversy, ‘Cheese Heads’ may have to figure out better material if they’re left to cheer for someone else at quarterback. It may be Jordan Love season in 2021. It could be the year for Blake Bortles. Because of all the uncertainty, the Packers are – at least for now – looking at a potentially rough season on offense. If the offense can’t produce, Green Bay faces what Pittsburgh fans were familiar with in 2019: a defense that has to spend a ton of time on the field in order to try to win games.
Early prediction: Steelers 60/40 win if Rodgers is gone; 50/50 if he stays