5 Reasons the Pittsburgh Steelers Will Win the AFC North in 2014
5 Reasons the Pittsburgh Steelers Will Win the AFC North Next Season
The AFC North is a division that is typically a coin flip between three teams in regards to who will be the king of the mountain that particular season. Those three teams would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. That doesn't mean that the train wreck that seemingly is the Cleveland Browns can't show improvement, after all, they were atop the division at one point this season before entering a downward spiral that they couldn't get out of.
The Bengals captured the AFC North crown this year, but there are a lot of signals pointing to the division title switching cities next season. Rightfully so, it could go to Baltimore, but history says that there is a strong chance the division title will return to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers won the AFC North crown in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and most recently in 2010. Looking at the history, the Steelers never go longer than three years without capturing the top seed in the AFC North. As we approach the 2014 season, the team from the steel city is due.
There is more to this argument than simply history. The Steelers are a tough team to gauge next season and beyond, but the pieces of the puzzle are there for a successful year and potential playoff run. Whether those pieces of the puzzle are put together is another story in itself.
I am going to give you the top five reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers will be donning AFC North Champions hats next season by year's end.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz and add him on Google+.
5 - Head Coach Mike Tomlin
The AFC North has some quality coaches, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are lucky enough to have the best. Mike Tomlin has not only been to two Super Bowls in his time with the team, but has also brought a Lombardi trophy back to the steel city.
It isn't as if Tomlin is the only quality coach in the division. Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh nearly tied Bill Cowher's mark of making the postseason every year in his first six seasons as a head coach. That is a tremendous feat, and Harbaugh won himself a championship last season. Cincinnati Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis has made some great strides with the team but has never been able to win a playoff game in his career. The last time the Bengals won a playoff game was 1990. The Browns, well, they currently don't have a head coach.
The Steelers are lucky as they not only have their coach for the future, but also the best in the division. The way Tomlin kept the team focused this season after such a dreadful start to the season is something certainly noteworthy, and just one of many reasons why he is the best in the AFC North and the man to lead this team in the future.
4 - QB Ben Roethlisberger
Plain and simple, when Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, you can never count out the Steelers. Roethlisberger has proven time and time again that he is a clutch player and performer. Roethlisberger is not just a clutch performer, but a player that is truly reaching the pinnacle of his career.
The 10-year veteran hasn't just won two Super Bowls and been to three, but has settled into a role as a leader on the team and a genuine elite quarterback in the NFL.
When Todd Haley went to the no-huddle offense midway through the season this year, Roethlisberger flourished. Throwing for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns, Roethlisberger was ninth in the NFL in passing yards and seventh in touchdowns.
If the Steelers want to contend and win the AFC North next season, then they will need Roethlisberger to be healthy and giving the team the best chance to win.
3 - Experience and History
Unlike the Bengals demonstrated this Wild Card playoff round, the Steelers are a team that has been there and done that. They've been to the Super Bowl, they've won huge games in the clutch, and that bodes well for the ability to get that swagger back in their stride.
The Steelers are a team that ultimately needs to utilize the past and their history in winning and help motivate the current roster to strive toward that. Sure, players like Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Maurkice Pouncey have all been around for successful seasons, but that doesn't mean that it is a given.
Getting this team focused by using the experience and history of the veterans on the roster will help propel this team to success next season and possibly beyond.
2 - Declining AFC North Division
Plain and simple, the AFC North isn't what it used to be. The Baltimore Ravens are an extremely vulnerable football team with an offensive line that struggles to protect and run block, and a defense that although stellar, isn't what it used to be.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a team that had the pieces of the puzzle for a run this year, but behind the average quarterback play of Andy Dalton and massive amounts injuries, this is a team that has a lot of question marks moving forward.
As for the Cleveland Browns, well, they are the Cleveland Browns. After firing their coach the same night as their loss to the Steelers in Week 17 makes you wonder what this team will look like next season. They had a great number of players elected to the Pro Bowl, but will they be able to put it all together?
Putting it simply, the Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to strike when the division is extremely vulnerable, and that is a good thing for the Steelers.
1 - Infusion of Talented Young Players
One of the benefits of injuries and team struggles is that you are able to get your young players playing time that otherwise they don't typically get. The Steelers either had aging veterans on their rosters or very "green" rookies.
On offense, you have players like David DeCastro, Le'Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton who all got playing time this season either as a rookie or second-year player. Mike Adams got his feet wet at tackle for more than a few games as well.
On defense, you have players like Vince Williams, Terrance Garvin, Shamarko Thomas and Jarvis Jones who were all called upon for some serious playing time throughout this season. Although some of their play was disappointing, the experience will benefit them in the future.
This experience for the young players will only help them improve next season when they aren't so "green," but instead more seasoned with NFL experience.