Reasons to be optimistic about the Steelers 2023 season
The Pittsburgh Steelers missed out on the postseason at the end of the 2022 campaign. It was the first time in since 2019 that they had to sit out the playoffs. The front office is already planning for next season, where they will be hoping for a better year: but there’s lots of room for positive vibes!
Here is a look at some reasons to be optimistic about a good year ahead for the Steelers.
The Steelers ended last season strongly
Head coach Mike Tomlin’s record of never having a losing season at the franchise continued in 2022. His team won seven of their final nine games in an excellent end to the season.
They were one of the in-form teams in the NFL in the final third of the year, with victories over the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, and Las Vegas Raiders in a four-game winning streak from week 15 to week 18. That run changed their record from 6-8 to 9-8.
Tomlin will be hoping his side takes that momentum into the 2023 season. He will be keen for his team to get off to a better start than they did in 2022, especially given they are in one of the strongest conferences, and divisions, in the NFL right now.
In the AFC, defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs are the favorites for the conference again next season. They are +350 in that outright market. Two of Pittsburgh’s AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals (+600) and Baltimore Ravens (+1400) are also prominent at the top end of the AFC.
The Steelers are +3300 to win the AFC for the first time since 2010. Winning against the Bengals and Ravens always determine whether they reach the playoffs, and those games are going to be as vital as ever next season.
In early Super Bowl betting, Pittsburgh is among the outsiders of winning it all with odds of +6600. However, the Bengals and Eagles were able to overcome the odds, as they were both underdogs at the start of the respective Super Bowl seasons. The Steelers will be doing all they can to achieve something similar.
Kenny Pickett looks ready to shine
In his rookie season in the NFL, Kenny Pickett finished with a 7-5 record, passing for 2,404 yards and seven passing touchdowns. The dual-threat QB showed he was also comfortable with his feet, as he had three rushing touchdowns.
Pickett looked to get better as the season progressed. That experience is going to prove invaluable in his second year in the league. He now understands the pace of the NFL and where he needs to improve to help his team.
One of the things which will have pleased Tomlin the most about his quarterback last season was his composure in the final stages of games. He became the first rookie QB to score two game-winning touchdowns in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
Pickett is poised to begin the 2023 season as the starting QB, which was the plan all along when the Steelers used their first-round NFL Draft pick on the former Pitt Panther. With the signs they saw last season, they will be optimistic he can succeed with the franchise.
Resurgent run game
The Steelers run game is something that had been a problem for the team for the past couple of years, but in their winning stretch at the back end of last season, it was working well.
Najee Harris had another excellent campaign, recording over 1,000 rushing yards for the second-straight year. The former first-round pick has also shown he can act as a receiver down the field, as he has scored six receiving touchdowns in his two years in the league.
Harris was supported by Jaylen Warren last season. The undrafted rookie picked up more carries as the season wore on. (Warren’s first career touchdown came against the Panthers in Week 15.) This allowed Harris to get some rest, providing the team with a one-two punch at the position for the first time in years that will help take the pressure off of Pickett’s arm.
Three picks in the 2023 NFL Draft
Pittsburgh is fortunate to have three picks in the opening two rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. They traded wide receiver Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears just before the trade deadline last season to gain a second-round pick, which incidentally became the top pick of the second round when the Bears season fell apart.
Having two picks in the second round will prove very helpful, and when paired with The Steelers 17th overall pick in the first round, gives them three picks in the top 50 selections for the first time since 1989.
In the last two drafts, Pittsburgh has opted for offensive players in the first round, with Harris and Pickett respectively, and offense again with Pat Freiermuth and George Pickens with their last two second round picks. The team has various needs, but those won’t be apparent until the dust has settled during the upcoming free agency period.
However, with three picks in the first two rounds, this gives Pittsburgh some leverage should they want to trade with another franchise to move up the board. Since they already have a QB they are happy with, it seems unlikely they will need to move up, but it is good to have the ammunition to navigate around the board should they see an opportunity.
Defense should improve
In 2021, the Steelers conceded 398 points in their 17 regular season games. Last season, they gave up just 346 points, which shows the defense is heading in the right direction.
Pittsburgh was unfortunate to lose star defensive player T.J. Watt for large parts of last season. He was injured in the 100-play Week 1 overtime battle with the Bengals, which saw him sidelined on IR until after the bye week, where Watt returned for the final nine games of 2022. Having a fully healthy Watt again will be a big boost for Tomlin’s squad.
With one or two quality additions from either the NFL Draft or free agency, the Steelers defense could be one of the best in the AFC next season. Their job will be to get Pickett back onto the field and to reduce the number of points the second-year QB will need to score to win games: a pattern which started to surface in the latter half of 2022 and should be all the reason for optimism going forward into 2023.