La Roche Student Predicts 2021 Steelers’ Season
By Luke Schultheis, Layout and Sports Editor
“The standard is the standard,” Mike Tomlin once said. Surely, he did not expect the standard to be getting blown out by the rival Cleveland Browns in the AFC Wild Card Round. 2021 is a fresh start for the Steelers and one that shows a lot of promise.
Despite losing linebacker Bud Dupree, the team made many offseason acquisitions that will prove valuable to the defense. New linebackers Joe Schobert and Melvin Ingram will fill Dupree’s space while rookie cornerback Tre Norwood will improve an already solid secondary.
The question lies in the offense. The 2020 Steelers’ offensive line is completely gone apart from Chukwuma Okorafor. Rookie running back Najee Harris will need help from them to get his career off to a good start.
The receiving corps is strong, but Big Ben will need time to throw in the pocket. The Steelers will be a good team, but great is a stretch until both sides of the ball come together.
Here are my predictions for the Steelers’ 2021 NFL season.
Game 1: @Buffalo Bills
The Bills are one of the hottest teams coming into 2021. Josh Allen is fresh off a career year with 37 touchdowns and a mere ten interceptions. Buffalo won eight straight games at the end of the previous season and harnessed a defense that only got better with time. In addition, they have the home field advantage and fans are back. If the Steelers have any chance of winning, they must keep Josh Allen off the field. They can do that with a strong run game and crucial third down conversions, but with an entirely new offensive line, it’s unlikely. The Bills win with a comfortable lead.
Score Prediction: 30-19
Game 2: Las Vegas Raiders
After a below average season, the Raiders look to bounce back. The offense was there in spurts, but the defense was virtually non-existent. Luckily for Raiders’ fans, their 2021 draft consisted mostly of defensive players. On paper, the secondary should be much stronger, but it will not be enough to stop Big Ben and the Steelers from getting their first victory. The Steelers please the Yinzers and win by a sizeable margin.
Score Prediction: 27-13.
Game 3: Cincinnati Bengals
Let’s take it back to mid-December 2020. The Steelers are coming off two losses after starting their season 11-0. Their next opponent: The Bengals in Cincinnati. The Steelers were their kryptonite. The last time the Bengals beat them was in 2015. Heavily favored to win on a Monday night, the Steelers lost to a team they long dominated. To add insult to injury, a backup quarterback was playing for an injured Joe Burrow. The Steelers will be ready for this one, regardless of quarterback.
Score Prediction: 24-16
Game 4: @Green Bay Packers
The Steelers won the last two against the Packers, but Aaron Rodgers did not start in either of those games. Lambeau Field is an arduous place to play, and the Packers look to continue a hot streak after finishing 13-3 last season. Defeating the Packers on their home turf would be an enormous victory, but the Steelers’ offense will not be able to outscore the Packers’. Rodgers and the pack win a very tight game.
Score Prediction: 33-27
Game 5: Denver Broncos
The Broncos enter the 2021 season with multiple question marks. Who will start as quarterback? Will the rush defense improve? Was cornerback Patrick Surtain II the right choice for a number one draft pick? By game five, these should all be answered to some extent. The Steelers have far less to worry about and they’ll bounce back at home.
Score Prediction: 26-14
Game 6: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks 2020 season can be summed up in just one word: Odd. They started 5-0 with one of the best offenses in the league while simultaneously having one of the weakest defenses. Midway through the year, their roles changed. The offense regressed and the defense improved. Their rollercoaster ride turned into a wild card loss to their rival the L.A. Rams. Consistency will be of most importance for the Seahawks in 2021. This is a big game, and the Steelers play their best in big games. They win an air-tight match.
Score Prediction: 24-23
Game 7: @Cleveland Browns
Every coach, player, and fan in Steelers Nation has yet to forget the disaster that took place last January. This is the Steelers’ Super Bowl. This matchup cannot be labeled as anything other than a statement game. Contrarily, the Browns have nothing to lose. Whether that makes them play better or worse is up in the air. The Steelers score a game-winning touchdown and hang on to win a crucial game.
Score Prediction: 31-24
Game 8: Chicago Bears
On paper, the Steelers should win. However, the team often diverts expectations. Playing down to competition is a common occurrence and whether it will continue is unclear. Unbeknownst to some, the Bears won the last three matchups. This is a primetime matchup at Heinz Field, so the Steelers should have the upper hand, but in 2013, the exact situation took place. The result: a 40-23 victory for Chicago. This will be an upset, but a much closer one. The Bears walk off with a game-winning field goal.
Score Prediction: 20-17
Game 9: Detroit Lions
The Lions defense needs a lot of help. Now that Matthew Stafford is gone, the offense does too. While they acquired quarterback Jared Goff, they lost multiple targets including wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. They are unlikely to finish with a positive record this season, but that’s okay for a team in the rebuilding process. The Steelers won’t be upset two weeks in a row, and they’ll win by multiple touchdowns.
Score Prediction: 34-16
Game 10: @Los Angeles Chargers
Quarterback Justin Herbert had a fantastic rookie season after subbing for an injured Tyrod Taylor. The team finished 7-9, but don’t let the record fool you. Nearly every game was decided by 10 points or less. The Chargers will be a much-improved team next year—even a playoff contender. With the Chiefs in their division, they’ll be fighting hard for a wild card spot. The Steelers won’t be able to keep up, and they’ll lose a close game in L.A.
Score Prediction: 23-20
Game 11: @Cinncinati Bengals
The Steelers will relive their tradition of sweeping the Bengals. Although Cincinnati will be better in 2021 than previous years, they won’t have the firepower to defeat a Steelers team fighting to make the playoffs. Steelers win an important mid-season game.
Score Prediction: 28-13
Game 12: Baltimore Ravens
It seems like no matter who’s playing for these teams, the result is a one-score deficit. This is a late season matchup, so it’s possible the team with less injuries will take the cake. The Ravens and Steelers should both be playoff contenders in 2021, making the game even more important. Lamar Jackson will come out blazing, giving the Ravens an early lead. Big Ben and the offense will rally, but they won’t be able to finish the comeback. The Ravens take the first win of this intense series.
Score Prediction: 27-21
Game 13: @Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are much better off than they were a year ago. Returning defensemen Daniel Hunter and Michael Pierce will drastically improve their rush defense, which ranked nearly last in 2020. Additionally, the offense had a great year in 2020, ranking just outside the top ten. They may not be the best team in their conference, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. The Steelers will have to fight hard to get this victory, but in the end, they’ll get the job done.
Score Prediction: 27-20
Game 14: Tennessee Titans
The Steelers won the shootout against the Titans last year after amassing 24 points in the first half. They only scored three in the second, but it was enough to hang on. This game will be a lot different. The score will be closer throughout and neither team will have complete control until the final quarter. The team that runs the ball better will win, and currently that team is the Titans. They run out the clock and leave Steelers’ nation wondering whether they’ll attain a playoff spot.
Score Prediction: 24-21
Game 15: @Kansas City Chiefs
A dominate force since Patrick Mahomes took over in 2018, the Chiefs aim for their third straight Super Bowl appearance. In this late season matchup, the Chiefs will be fighting for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Add a crowd of roaring fans to the mix, and the outcome for the Steelers does not look good. They’ll lose their second game in a row and be on the outside looking in.
Score Prediction: 30-20
Game 16: Cleveland Browns
The Browns are a favorite in the AFC this year along with the Bills and Chiefs. The Steelers may not make the playoffs, but an opportunity to ruin the Browns’ chances would be a perfect substitute. With the Browns and Ravens likely fighting for a division title, the Steelers could give Baltimore the help they need. A full crowd of Yinzers on a frigid winter night will assist the black and gold brigade in sweeping the Browns this year.
Score Prediction: 28-23
Game 17: @Baltimore Ravens
The final game of the year. Two teams fighting for something. The men in purple and black for a division title. The men in black and gold for a wild card spot. This is not a battle of who plays better—this is a battle of who wants it more. In a potential contender for “game of the year,” the Steelers get off on the right foot. They score an opening drive touchdown, but the Ravens match it. The next half of the game is a defensive stalemate, punts flying back and forth. The fourth quarter approaches, and the tone shifts. The numbers “13-13” illuminate the scoreboard as the clock ticks to five minutes. The Steelers have the ball at their own 25-yard line, and the offense is flowing. They chop two minutes off the clock, and the Ravens have one timeout left. On a crucial third and long, Big Ben forces a pass and turns the ball over. Lamar Jackson leads the Ravens to the Steelers 40 yard-line, setting up a 57-yard field goal attempt with just four seconds remaining. The kick soars in the air until the referees each put their arms up, shattering the hearts of Steelers fans. The kick is good, and the Steelers barely miss the playoffs.
Score Prediction: 16-13
As I write this outro, the Steelers are 1-0 and my predictions are already broken. As a devout fan, let them break more! I do think the Steelers can make the playoffs, but I’m not sure how far they’ll go if they do. I say the ceiling is the AFC championship and the floor is 8-9.
After watching the league’s first week, I’d love to go back and change some of these predictions. If I could, I would pick the Steelers to win over the Titans and the Ravens once. I’d also choose the Steelers to lose against the Browns once. This would put them at 10-7. Regardless, as always, it’s going to be a great year for football!