Where do we begin? Byron Leftwich is back in Pittsburgh...
The multi-million dollar question for the Steelers is, unfortunately, whether or not Leftwich is their starting quarterback in Week One. It's an old story that's been told too many times for the Steelers, their fans of the NFL to hear any more, but Pittsburgh's two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had another bad spring, and will miss a few games to start the year because of rape accusations.
Roethlisberger was lucky, though. A couple other Super Bowl heroes received their walking papers since the black and gold last laced up their shoulder pads. Santonio Holmes is no longer with the Steelers after he made a number of his own bad decisions, and Willie Parker was shown the door because the franchise decided he was too old to be on their roster any longer.
Let's look at the question marks surrounding the fantasy futures in Pittsburgh this year.
Roethlisberger is suspended, pending "good behavior," and will likely be out at least until the Steelers' bye week (Week Five). Until he's "un-grounded" by Roger Goodell, the Steelers will have to survive with either Leftwich or Dennis Dixon under center. The loss of Holmes in the passing game and Parker in the backfield, issues we'll address momentarily, will put even more pressure on whomever is starting to begin the season.
However, because Roethlisberger will be forced to sit for some time, his legs and arm could be fresh down the stretch. Considering the Steelers' schedule, though, I'm not sure this is the year to consider Roethlisberger as a fantasy option.
We've already mentioned that Parker is gone, but from a fantasy perspective that's been true for 12 months already. The primary carries will go to Rashard Mendenhall, who could be a fantastic fantasy option early and quality trade candidate (to unload, see "sell high" theory) mid-season. The backups will be Mewelde Moore and rookie Jonathan Dwyer.
Five of the Steelers first six games (ATL, @TEN, @TAM, CLE, @MIA) could all be favorable, especially with Roethlisberger either out or just returning. Given his skill set and the matchups, Mendenhall should be considered a low end #1 or solid #2 RB in most draft formats.
Holmes is gone, but this is a deep group that could have some solid sleepers among them this year. Hines Ward will be the veteran leader once again, but youngster Mike Wallace will be the man asked to replace Holmes in the vertical passing game. If teams stack the box in Roethlisberger's absence early on, Wallace could be a home run threat.
However, as we'll discuss when we look at the Steelers' schedule, this might be a season to trade away succeeding players on the Pittsburgh roster mid-season. In Weeks 13-16, which is the playoffs in most fantasy formats, the Steelers face @BAL, CIN, NYJ and CAR. If you're top receiver has the Ravens, Bengals and Jets defenses in the first three rounds of the playoffs, you won't have to worry about the Panthers.
Heath Miller is a touchdown vulture but isn't going to rack up big-time yards. He might be a valuable asset to the grab-bag under center this year in the red zone, though. I would consider Miller a solid #2 TE in most formats.
This is an interesting group that, again, should be considered in the context of their schedule. It's a veteran group with a lot of the same names in the same places, and continued health concerns surrounding Troy Polamalu make it hard to roll the dice on PIT DEF.
Most of the team's stars are aging, so it's hard to continue to put money on James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to put up huge sack numbers. However, if anyone can get a defensive scheme together that works in today's NFL, it's Pittsburgh. Their secondary could be a good bet for production against Cleveland, Tampa and Buffalo, but health should be monitored regularly. If Polamalu goes down, they have shown to be significantly more vulnerable to run and pass.
2010 Regular Season Schedule (times EST)
- Week One – SUN Sept 12 – ATL 1:00 PM
- Week Two – SUN Sept 19 – @ TEN 1:00 PM
- Week Three – SUN Sept 26 – @ TAM 1:00 PM
- Week Four – SUN Oct 3 – vs BAL 1:00 PM
- Week Five – BYE
- Week Six – SUN Oct 17 – vs CLE 1:00 PM
- Week Six – SUN Oct 24 – @MIA 1:00 PM
- Week Eight – SUN Oct 31 – @ NO 8:20 PM
- Week Nine - MON Nov 8 – @CIN 8:30 PM
- Week Ten – SUN Nov 14 – vs NE 8:20 PM
- Week Eleven – SUN Nov 21 – vs OAK 1:00 PM
- Week Twelve – SUN Nov 28 – @ BUF 1:00 PM
- Week Thirteen – SUN Dec 5 – @ BAL 8:20 PM
- Week Fourteen - SUN Dec 12 – vs CIN 1:00 PM
- Week Fifteen – SUN Dec 19 – vs NYJ 4:15 PM
- Week Sixteen – THU Dec 23 – vs CAR 8:20 PM
- Week Seventeen – SUN Jan 2 – @ CLE 1:00 PM
The biggest part of the schedule to take note of is the playoff weeks. As we mentioned earlier, the Steelers have a couple nice weeks for fantasy prospects against Oakland and Buffalo in Weeks 11 & 12, but then come into the playoff weeks with BAL, CIN, NYJ and CAR. Active managers might want to ride offensive players like Wallace, Ward and Mendenhall while they're hot and then look to move them for players with a softer schedule.
This could be a wild card offensively this year. It might not be until halftime of Week Two that a fantasy owner can be completely comfortable with the offensive scheme in Pittsburgh because of the departures and Roethlisberger's suspension, and the philosophy could change again when he comes back from suspension. This season will truly be a work-in-progress for the first half of the season for the Steelers.
Defensively, the 3-4 will again feature a lot blitzing and center on stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. Pittsburgh always has strong team defensive numbers, and this year should be no different.