There’s something about losing. Players have a tendency to listen. Finally Ben realized that Haley knew what he was talking about which led to the three men, Mike Tomlin being the third, getting on the same page, once Ben figured out that Tomlin and the front office was 100 percent behind Haley.
Ben is getting paid too much money, and is too important to the team to be totally ineffective because he’s playing injured. This may have been one of his best seasons as he completed 275 of 584 passes for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns. The no huddle offense was one of the keys. Why? Because it causes the defense to take longer to get to the QB, and it allows Ben to call most of the plays, but most of all it forces Ben to get rid of the ball faster. The results have been a much more productive offense. It also leads to a healthier offensive line. Ben was hanging them out to dry, forcing them to hold tackles far longer than any lineman can effectively. Plus these kids are mostly young and needed maturity. They have it now.
Also on offense, Le’Veon Bell has established himself as one of the premier backs in the game as a rookie. He had 860 yards on 244 carries with 8 touchdowns. He will easily be one of the top running backs in the league next season.
Even though they most likely will lose Emmanuel Sanders, 67 catches for 740 yards and 6 touchdowns, the receivers should be among the best in the league with Pro Bowler Antonio Brown leading the way. He led the league in receptions this season with 110, coming just two shy of tying Hines Ward Steelers’ record of 112, and his 1,499 yards among the best in the league. He only had 8 touchdowns. Antonio may be the best kept secret in the NFL, but look for him to break that record next season.
If Sanders leaves it will move Jericho Cotchery up to the number two slot. He had 46 catches for 602 yards and a team leading 10 touchdowns as the third receiver this season. That will leave an opening for a third receiver, which means a battle between the young receivers on the team now, and whoever they select in the draft, which should be among the first three. Add Tight End Heath Miller, 58 catches for 593 yards, to the mix and the Steelers will have one of the most productive passing attacks in the NFL–especially considering Heath will be with the team for the entire 16 games. He missed the first part of the season because of injuries this year. After leading the team in touchdowns last season, he only had one this season. That will all change next season.
The line, even without Markice Pouncey, was one of the best in the league during the last 8 games, and had just as much to do with the team’s 6-2 finish as anything. They kept Ben upright by keeping the defense off him. With Pouncey returning to join Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster and Mike Adams, this group will form one of the best offensive lines in the game.
On defense, many decisions will have to be made about the secondary, which is old. Losing Kenan Lewis hurt big time but Ike Taylor, Troy Polamolu, Ryan Clark can still play with the best of them and, until the Steelers can find someone to replace them, they should continue to be one of the better secondaries in the league. But look for one or two defensive backs to be selected in the 2014 draft.
They are loaded with young talent at the linebackers, and defensive line slots. The biggest problem will be who gets paid and who gets let go.
But that’s next year. This season in the AFC the teams in the playoffs are: First seed the Denver Broncos, 13-3, Second seed the New England Patriots, 12-4; third seed, the Cincinnati Bengals, 11-5; the fourth seed, the Indianapolis Colts, 11-5; fifth seed, the Kansas City Chiefs, 11-5; and sixth seed, the San Diego Chargers, 9-7.
In the NFC the seeds are: first, Seattle Seahawks, 13-3; second seed the Carolina Panthers, 12-4; third seed, the Philadelphia Eagles, 10-6; fourth seed, Green Bay Packers, 8-7-1; fifth seed, San Francisco 49ers, 12-4, and sixth seed, New Orleans Saints, 11-5.Very seldom do the teams with the best records face off in the Super Bowl, but this year I predict that they will. It will be a Seattle vs. Denver, Super Bowl.