Predicting Steelers record without T.J. Watt for the next stretch of games

T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs off of the field against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 09, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs off of the field against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 09, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

T.J. Watt is essential to the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so what will the team’s record look like without him over the next stretch of games?

There aren’t many teams that can claim they might be better off without their starting quarterback than their star defensive player, but that might be the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Going from Mitch Trubiksy to Kenny Pickett might not prove to be much of a drop (if any), while the gap between T.J. Watt and the next man up is as big as any in the NFL.

In his first game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Watt was fantastic as he provided pressure on the quarterback and stuffed the run behind the line of scrimmage. Watt also came up with a big sack and an interception at the line of scrimmage.

Sadly, he suffered a pectoral injury late in the game and he will be out of commission for some time. The good news is that Watt was able to avoid season-ending surgery, and the Steelers are optimistic they can get him back as early as the end of October.

They are going to need him as soon as possible. T.J. Watt is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and his impact on the defensive side of the football is unmatched. So can the Steelers weather the storm without him until his return?

What will Steelers record be without T.J. Watt?

This is a tough question to answer, as we obviously don’t know how many games Watt is going to miss at this point. The broad sense right now — based on all of the information we have been given — is that Watt is going to miss between 4-6 weeks as he rehabs his injury. The Steelers bye doesn’t come until Week 9. While this would be a cautious date for his return, it sounds like the team is optimistic the timetable will be sooner than this.

For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s say that Adam Schefter’s report of six weeks is accurate. How will the Pittsburgh Steelers fare during this stretch?

After starting the season with a win that the experts certainly didn’t see coming against the Bengals, Mike Tomlin’s team has their work cut out for them. The upcoming three-game stretch is very manageable. The Steelers host the Patriots this week, travel to Cleveland to face the Browns in Week 3, then host the New York Jets in Week 4. While Pittsburgh’s offense was abysmal, it’s possible to see them escaping this stretch with a perfect record.

After that, things get much more difficult. The Steelers are at Buffalo in Week 5, host Tampa Bay in Week 6, at Miami in Week 7, and at Philadelphia in Week 8 before the bye. A six-week timetable for Watt’s return would mean that the team’s last game without him would be Week 7 against the Dolphins.

So let’s examine this. Though I do think the Steelers could go undefeated over their next three, I’ll predict that they drop one of these games — considering the state of their offense. Counting the win over the Bengals, that would have them at 3-1 to start the season.

From there, I can see Pittsburgh losing three straight against the Bills, Buccaneers, and Dolphins — especially considering two of these three contests are on the road. If this were to be the case, the Pittsburgh Steelers could be looking at a 3-4 record before T.J. Watt makes his return. This team certainly wouldn’t be out of the hunt, but not exactly the shape they would want to be in.

Obviously, my views could change if the Steelers show that they can take a big step forward on offense. While I don’t expect them to be as bad as they were in Week 1, they could struggle to put points on the board this year. Of course, I think Pittsburgh could come away with the next three games and maybe beat Miami in Week 7.

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If Watt misses the next six games, I think a 3-4 record is cautiously optimistic, but it’s possible this team could be 4-3. Starting the season 5-2 would require another huge upset over the Bills or Buccaneers. Without T.J. Watt, I’m just not ready to predict that happening. Still, the Steelers should be able to do enough without Watt to keep our playoff hopes alive.