Steelers need reset, NFL power rankings, Rams-Packers and more

Steelers need reset, NFL power rankings, Rams-Packers and more

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the league’s model franchise for better than 50 years. Now, though, it’s time to realize and correct some errors.

It’s time the Pittsburgh Steelers accept reality. They’re done.

Pittsburgh should have started looking to the future this past offseason. Despite starting 11-0 last year, the Steelers got poor quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger and an offense hampered by his dwindling abilities.

The end result was 12-4 and an embarrassing Wild Card loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Now, after being blown out 41-10 to finish off a season sweep to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers must give up their delusions.

In March, Roethlisberger should have been released. The Steelers could have put out a flowery statement before aggressively trying to draft his replacement. As it happened, general manager Kevin Colbert could have moved up to select Justin Fields or Mac Jones. Instead, the Steelers took a running back in Najee Harris.

Through 10 starts this year, Roethlisberger has thrown for 2,502 yards (6.6 YPA) with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. There’s no threat of a deep ball as Big Ben’s arm is gone. Everything is short and between the numbers on deeper shots, with the hope of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool making plays in space.

Yet while the lack of a long-term replacement for Roethlisberger is the chief concern, there’s myriad others. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a single offensive lineman who projects as a surefire starter past their current contract. Defensively, corner Joe Haden has an expiring deal, linebacker Devin Bush hasn’t recovered from a torn ACL and the remainder of the back seven ranges from average to poor save for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

For two decades, Bill Belichick has been the example of moving on early. We’ve seen it time and again, whether it be Deion Branch, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Lawyer Milloy, Mike Vrabel or Tom Brady. Belichick, always willing to churn his roster even at crucial spots, doesn’t allow for age to become a problem.

The result? New England is 8-4 after thrashing the Tennessee Titans for a sixth straight win, while the Steelers are 5-5-1 and trying to recover from a hammer shot to the heart.

Pittsburgh goes into the remainder of this season facing a steep climb. The Steelers have the Baltimore Ravens twice, the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings on the road, and home dates with the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans. Good luck.

Barring the miraculous, the Steelers are missing the playoffs. Then the real work begins for Colbert, who has a laundry list of fixes to make.

It starts with a quarterback, but many league talent evaluators believe this is a weak draft class in that regard. Pittsburgh may need to look into a trade, either for Deshaun Watson (pending his legal issues), Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers or Jimmy Garoppolo. Sans Garoppolo, each will cost at least a trio of first-round picks along with their massive contracts.

Even if the Steelers are willing to part with the draft capital, they’ll have to outbid teams such as the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants, with the latter three all having more ammunition.

Until the quarterback situation is remedied, everything else is noise. However, Pittsburgh also needs to find a top corner, linebackers who can cover and run, multiple offensive linemen and more. Colbert is projected to have $44 million in cap space, but if the Steelers are lucky enough to land one of the aforementioned signal-callers in a trade, the money is gone.

For generations, the Steelers have found ways to win. This season, they’ve met their match in a combination of age and oversight.

On Sunday, Cincinnati gave Pittsburgh strong dose of reality. It’s time the Steelers accept it.

NFL power rankings

Power rankings

Top 10 Thanksgiving performances of all time

1. 1929 — Cardinals/Bears — Ernie Nevers accounts for 40 points
2. 1998 — Vikings/Cowboys — Randy Moss notches 163 yards and three TDs
3. 1975 — Bills/Lions — O.J. Simpson rushes for 273 yards
4. 2004 — Colts/Lions — Peyton Manning throws for six TDs
5. 1945 — Rams/Lions — Jim Benton goes for 303 receiving yards
6. 1979 — Oilers/Cowboys — Earl Campbell rushes for 195 yards, two TDs
7. 1977 — Dolphins/Cardinals — Bob Griese tosses five TDs
8. 1996 — Chiefs/Lions — Marcus Allen eclipses Walter Payton on all-time rushing TD list
9. 1997 — Bears/Lions — Barry Sanders rushes for 167 yards, three TDs
10. 1974 — Cowboys/Redskins — Clint Longley replaces Roger Staubach, leads late comeback

Quotable

“This is the NFL. Nothing is promised. Just because Cam Newton is on your roster doesn’t mean you’re going to win. Just because it’s a feel-good story doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”

– Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton after his team’s 33-10 loss in Miami 

Newton returning to Carolina has been a nice story. After all, who doesn’t love being able to go home again? However, after a hideous performance where the former MVP went 5-of-21 with two interceptions, it might be time to say goodbye.

The Panthers should play Newton the rest of the way — why not? — but then offer a nice retirement ceremony, complete with his number being retired. It’s time.

Podcast

Random stat

The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants have a combined five first-round picks in the 2022 Draft. If the season ended today, all those picks would be in the top 14 choices, including four in the top 10.

Info learned this week

1. Packers, Rams are two teams going in opposite directions

One enters its bye feeling invincible. The other comes out of theirs with only more questions.

After beating the Los Angeles Rams by a 36-25 margin, the Green Bay Packers get a much-needed week off. At 9-3, the Packers are second only to the Arizona Cardinals — who they beat in November — in the NFC playoff picture, with the NFC North all but wrapped up. Despite injuries to stars in corner Jaire Alexander, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, guard Elgton Jenkins, tackle David Bakhtiari and others, Green Bay continues to stack impressive wins.

Conversely, the Rams fell to 7-4 despite having two weeks to prepare for the Packers. Los Angeles  has lost three straight and might have the bigger problem of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is reportedly dealing with injuries to his arm, ankle and back. If Stafford can’t play at an MVP level, the Rams aren’t scary. They’re incredibly mortal.

Moving forward, Los Angeles has to hope the Cardinals slip up. If they don’t, the Rams are likely going to be part of the 4-5 matchup on Wild Card weekend. Talk about a brutal assignment to start the playoffs. Not what the Rams were envisioning when they gave up multiple first-round picks for Stafford.

2. Cowboys suddenly in tailspin as December arrives

The Dallas Cowboys are going to win the NFC East, but other dreams are dwindling.

After losing 36-33 in overtime on Thanksgiving to the Las Vegas Raiders, Dallas has dropped three of four — all to the AFC West. At 7-4, the Cowboys remain in firm command of their weak division, but are suddenly looking at the real possibility of being towards the bottom half of the bracket.

The Cowboys had a chance to make huge strides this month towards home-field advantage, with home dates against the Raiders and Denver Broncos. Instead of doing so, they lost both games plus an engagement with the Chiefs, putting them in tough position.

When Dallas gets healthier with the returns of defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, and receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, its fortunes will improve. However, the Cowboys have are now fighting a brutal seeding battle, one which could — and should — have been avoided.

3. Bills beat Saints, but lose in the bigger picture with Tre’Davious White injury

The Buffalo Bills needed to beat the New Orleans Saints. They did so, but at a heavy cost.

In the second quarter of the 31-6 win, Bills star corner Tre’Davious White went down awkwardly before quickly being ruled out with a knee injury. A day later, the worst fears were confirmed as a torn ACL.

Without White, Buffalo needs a litany of things to happen. Its pass rush must improve dramatically, while the thin corner depth must prove effective behind Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson. But more importantly, the Bills need Josh Allen to find himself.

Allen has gotten national shine as an MVP candidate, but those who watch the Bills weekly paint a different — and accurate — picture. Last year’s Second-Team All-Pro has had brilliant performances, but too often this season he’s been amiss. Allen’s struggles haven’t just been his own doing, as the offensive line has also struggled to protect him in recent weeks.

However, Allen is both treated and paid like a superstar. If Buffalo is going to make a Super Bowl run without White, he must play like one too.

4. Browns, Ravens both have major issues to clean up after sloppy SNF

The Ravens watched Lamar Jackson throw four interceptions. The offense scored 16 points. They still won.

On an almost weekly basis, Baltimore finds itself in ugly games against seemingly lesser opponents, only to need a hair-raising finish in the end. It’s easy to brush concerns aside when the Ravens are 8-3 and leading the AFC, but these tendencies of playing huge stretches of bad football haunt in the end. They always do. If Baltimore wants to finally break through in January, it needs to clean up the mess.

Jackson, who has spent time this year as an MVP candidate, has 14 passing touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Over Baltimore’s last five games, Jackson totaled seven scores against nine picks, while never amassing 270 passing yards. It’s abysmal.

Meanwhile, the Browns go into their bye week at 6-6 and about to fall from playoff contention. Baker Mayfield completed fewer than half his attempts on Sunday night, and while playing through pain is an NFL virtue, it’s fair to wonder if he needs to sit. Cleveland’s receivers aren’t getting open and the running game dried up against Baltimore, but Mayfield is a No. 1 overall pick. He either must be better, or things need to change.

5. 49ers are beginning to look like contenders in the NFC

In a conference long deemed a five-team race, perhaps room for a sixth?

After Sunday’s 36-28 win over the Vikings, the San Francisco 49ers are firmly in the second NFC wild card spot. Minnesota trails by a game and a tiebreaker, while nobody else seems capable of threatening. Additionally, with the Rams’ loss, San Francisco is a game back of Los Angeles with another to play against its interstate foe, having won the first battle a few weeks back.

Yes, the Niners are limited with Jimmy Garoppolo and receiver Deebo Samuel’s groin injury is concerning. Yes, San Francisco has a tough slate remaining. Still, the 49ers are playing their best ball on a three-game win streak, and some of the presumptive NFC powers are teetering.

At 6-5, San Francisco isn’t a favorite to reach the Super Bowl … but don’t count the Niners out.

Gambler’s game

Over at WynnBet, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are laying 9.5 points on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. While the line is large, don’t think twice. Swallow the points.

Two cents

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the epitome of why bad teams stay bad.

For the past decade, here is the complete list of first-round picks:

2011: Blaine Gabbert, QB2012: Justin Blackmon, WR2013: Luke Joeckel, T2014: Blake Bortles, QB2015: Dante Fowler, EDGE2016: Jalen Ramsey, CB2017: Leonard Fournette, RB2018: Taven Bryan, DT2019: Josh Allen, EDGE2020: C.J. Henderson, CB and K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE2021: Trevor Lawrence, QB and Travis Etienne, RB

Ramsey is the only All-Pro player of the group, while he and Allen are the lone Pro Bowlers. Incredibly, only Bortles got a second contract with the team. Additionally, a whopping 10 of those selections were in the top-10 overall choices.

Barring a massive turnaround, Jacksonville will have another top-10 pick at its disposal. If the Jaguars don’t start hitting on stars in that area, they’ll continue to find themselves there in April.

Inside the league

There’s a growing belief in league circles we’re seeing the end of Russell Wilson’s time in Seattle.

If that’s the case, the Seahawks should complete the revamp by moving on from Pete Carroll.

Carroll, 70, is the oldest active coach in the NFL. Barring a significant turnaround, this will be Seattle’s first losing season in 10 years. While it’s hard to move on from such production, it’s also important to be realistic.

If the Seahawks are going to move Wilson for a hoard of much-needed draft capital, they should hire a coach who can grow with the next crop of cornerstone players. This offseason promises to have elite candidates, including offensive coordinators Kellen Moore (Dallas), Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City) and Brian Daboll (Buffalo) among others.

For Seattle, this entire situation should be a lesson in roster building. No team with a superstar quarterback in his prime should be almost forced into a reset, and yet the Seahawks are in such a spot because of horrid trades and poor drafts.

Seattle general manager John Schneider doesn’t have his first-round pick for a second straight year after trading them to the New York Jets for safety Jamal Adams. Adams, who was then signed to an $80 million extension, has become a complete liability in coverage, leaving him to play like a linebacker who can blitz.

Since 2016, the Seahawks have spent their first-round choices on tackle Germain Ifedi, running back Rashaad Penny, edge rusher L.J. Collier and linebacker Jordyn Brooks. All were almost universally seen as reaches when selected, and certainly have proven to be. And last year, despite desperately needing to restock the roster, Seattle had three draft picks.

Many in the NFL believe the Seahawks will move Wilson this offseason. If that proves true, it’s time for a full rebuild.

History lesson

In 1952, the Bears and Dallas Texans played an incredibly unique Thanksgiving game lost to time.

The Texans were in their first and only year of operation. After starting 0-7, the franchise was ready to fold before the NFL ran the organization through the end of the year. However, no longer with a place to play in Dallas, the team was forced to practice in Hershey, Pa. and play its remaining two home games on the road.

On Thanksgiving, the Texans “hosted” the Bears at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio. Under legendary head coach George Halas, Chicago entered as heavy favorites despite a 4-5 record. Somehow, the Texans won 27-23 in front of 3,000 fans.

It would be the Texans only win for a team which included feature Hall of Famer defensive linemen Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan.

Parting shot

We live in the 24-7 news cycle. It’s a cancer to critical thinking and smart commentary.

Every week, we’re inundated with scorching takes built to create engagement and nothing more. It leads to people saying Mac Jones is the next Tom Brady (Jones is efficient and has a bright future, but c’mon) and a new favorite being anointed every week. It’s wise to ignore the noise.

In NFL circles, nobody starts thinking about contenders and pretenders until Thanksgiving. That’s when the race begins.

To that end, start paying attention to how teams are playing, who is healthy and who isn’t.

For example, the Titans and Patriots are both 8-4 are Sunday, but the Patriots are ascending while the Titans are without any ability to run a functional offense. For most of the season, Tennessee was the better team. That’s no longer the case.

Remember earlier this year when the Carolina Panthers were 3-0 and we all lived through endless segments wondering whether they were for real. As any reputable person knew, the answer was no, they were the product of a soft schedule. Hell, there were real people who thought Sam Darnold might be an MVP candidate.

As we get into the final six weeks of the regular season, the faux contenders get cast aside. The strong teams with elite quarterbacks, solid rosters and smart coaching staffs begin to showcase their best versions while minimizing their weaknesses.

We’ve reached December. It’s time to forget the early-season nonsense.

Here comes the home stretch.

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