7 nightmare scenarios for the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2024 season

Everything won't be sunshine and rainbows for the Steelers in 2024, but if these scenarios take place, the season will be a total nightmare.
Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers
Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

Much of the Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase believes the season should only end with the team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, that's just not a realistic atmosphere. It's not a nightmare to fail to reach the Super Bowl.

That said, bad things do happen throughout a season. For the Steelers over the past few seasons, a lot of bad has happened during the season. Even so, the team is still a playoff contender, even if winning playoff games has eluded the franchise for far too long.

Nonetheless, there are bad things that happen to teams that they can overcome and others that have harsher long-term effects. Those scenarios are the nightmares.

Let's take a look at the seven worst things that can happen to Pittsburgh this season.

1. Injuries to Superstars

Injuries are inevitable, you just have to hope they don't happen to superstar players.

The Steelers have been fairly unlucky in this regard. Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pat Freiermuth, and TJ Watt have all missed extensive playing time at some point in the past two seasons. Losing any of them hurts the team considerably, but losing more than one at a time is even worse.

There's nothing anyone can do to prevent this one, but mitigating the impact with solid depth can help a great deal.

That said, the Steelers can't afford injuries at wide receiver, cornerback, or on the defensive line this season. The depth is either young and unproven, or, in the case of the defensive line specifically, too drastic of a step down.

2. Arthur Smith's Offense is Just as Anemic as Canada's

Arthur Smith's offense when he was the offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans was one of the best in the league, thanks in large part to Derrick Henry's superhuman abilities and Ryan Tannehill's safe decision-making.

However, Smith's offense in Atlanta made a reputation for underutilizing star talent while underperforming in the winnable NFC South division.

Surely, Smith's offense can't be as bad as Matt Candada's, but the fact remains that more of the players are the same with the lone exception being at quarterback. Both Russell Wilson and Justin Fields come from offenses that have struggled to move the ball effectively over the past two seasons too, though.

There are no guarantees that Smith's offense is going to be effective in Pittsburgh. If it proves to be more of the same, whether mimicking Canada's issues with the Steelers or Smith's issues in Atlanta, the Steelers will suffer either way.

The worst part of that nightmare? It'll carry on for another two seasons afterward.

3. Neither Wilson or Fields Proves to be the Answer

If Smith's offense is a failure in Pittsburgh, it's likely going to be the fault of the quarterback position. The Steelers do have insurance if Wilson performs poorly, but Fields hasn't done much in the NFL to garner much confidence.

It's true that both players are in the best possible position to turn their careers around, but there is no guarantee they will cash in on the opportunity.

If both players continue to regress, the Steelers are facing a disastrous season with even fewer answers at quarterback than they had entering the 2024 offseason.

4. George Pickens Doesn't Establish Himself as a True No. 1 Receiver

Unfortunately for George Pickens, his nightmare scenario can take place whether the quarterback plays competently or not.

If George Pickens goes the way of JuJu Smith-Schuster, failing to be a legitimate No.1 receiver, his time in Pittsburgh will soon be over.

We've seen Pickens take over games and completely vanish in others. He oozes superstar potential, but he hasn't had the opportunity to take the next step in his career.

Conventional wisdom says he can do it with Wilson at quarterback, but the same was said about Jerry Jeudy in Denver. Pickens has all the makings of a dominant No. 1, but he has to prove it this year without yet being given a running mate on the other side to draw attention.

5. Alex Highsmith has Another Sub-10 Sack Season

The Steelers had 33 sacks from edge rushers in 2023. Unfortunately, Alex Highsmith only accounted for seven of them.

By all accounts, Highsmith didn't have a bad season. However, after having 14.5 sacks in 2022, the expectation for him was to get double-digit sacks once again, especially with TJ Watt healthy.

Most of Highsmith's 2022 sacks came while Watt was healthy, so the drop-off in production in 2023 draws a bit of concern. Now that Highsmith is locked into a $68 million contract, he has to perform like an elite pass rusher - especially if Watt is lining up across from him.

The Steelers should be pushing 33 sacks between Highsmith and Watt alone. Anything less than 30 is a disappointment.

6. Joey Porter Jr. Takes a Step Back

To give Joey Porter Jr some grace, a sophomore slump isn't a nightmare for him specifically. He's going to face some elite receivers following an offseason of him boasting his abilities, so the opposition is going to be gunning for him.

If he takes a step back, Porter will have to recover in 2025. Steelers fans will be patient with him in that scenario.

However, Porter experiencing a slump would cause problems for the rest of the defense this season. Cameron Sutton and Donte Jackson are veterans, but neither has a career that inspires confidence to pick up the slack.

If Porter isn't shutting down No. 1 receivers, opposing offenses are going to have their way with the Steelers defensive backfield.

7. Steelers Fail to Reach the Playoffs

The Steelers have stumbled into the playoffs in two of the past three seasons only to get crushed in the wildcard round. But, the silver lining is that they at least made the dance.

That said, Steelers fans are fed up after waiting seven seasons for a playoff win. Making the playoffs alone isn't satisfying enough. That only magnifies the failures of the franchise if they fail to reach the postseason at all in 2024.

There is no grace given for installing a new offense with a new quarterback. There is no grace given for playing the toughest division in the NFL either. Fans demand a trip to the playoffs, and they want a win badly. Anything short of that is an abject failure.

Matters are not made better by Mike Tomlin's recent contract extension. Whether the Steelers miss the playoffs with a winning record or not, fans will not be happy about entering his 19th season as head coach with yet another fruitless season under his belt.