The Pittsburgh Steelers have hype coming from some circles in the league while others aren't buying in. With the early release of EA Sports Madden 24 Monday night, (and a weekly look at how the sim result looks for each regular season opponent throughout the season here on Still Curtain) it seemed like a good idea to see how the video game sees the 2023 season panning out for the Black and Gold.
At release, the Steelers are the lowest-rated team in the AFC North, so an uphill battle is to be expected in the simulation. The Steelers are rated 83 overall while the Cincinnati Bengals are 89 and the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns are both rated 87. Still, I didn't quite expect the game to be so unforgiving against Pittsburgh.
Simming one Franchise Mode season with all features automated, Madden had the Steelers finish last in the AFC North, and last in the NFL, with a 2-15 record.
The Ravens took the division on a tiebreaker over the Bengals as both teams finished 12-5. The Bengals were bounced in the first round of the playoffs while the Ravens lost in the AFC Championship to the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs over the Philadelphia Eagles.
This unhinged simulation had Dak Prescott win the league MVP.
Now for the Steelers' unfortunate season. The Steelers only beat Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars after the Week 6 BYE. Pittsburgh was the only team to post fewer than five wins. The New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots all finished 5-12 to tie for the second-worst record in the league.
Pittsburgh finished with the 29th-ranked offense and 31st-ranked defense. The defense was actually second in the league in pass defense, but dead last in rushing.
Diminished Steelers Defense?
Speaking of the defense, possibly the most unforgivable thing the simulation envisioned was the team's ability to sack the quarterback. Cameron Heyward led the team with eight sacks.
In a simulation that saw Joey Bosa and Von Miller lead the league with 21 sacks, T.J. Watt finished the season with four sacks. He started every game, playing 892 snaps, and had just four sacks. Alex Highsmith also had only four.
Second-round pick Joey Porter Jr. had an interception to go along with 68 tackles. Cole Holcomb led the team with 109 tackles.
The Steelers Offense Falls Short
First-round pick Broderick Jones let up 16 sacks at left tackle. Oof.
Despite that, Kenny Pickett had a solid second season. He completed 63% of his 534 passes, throwing 26 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. His favorite target was Diontae Johnson who caught 82 passes, though his 929 yards was second to Allen Robinson II's 973. Robinson also led the way in touchdown receptions with nine.
George Pickens had 62 receptions for 696 yards and five scores. Pat Freiermuth had 65 for 566 yards and two touchdowns. Not the breakout season we expect from these two at all.
Najee Harris finally managed to average more than four yards per carry as his 4.5 average granted him 1,235 yards on 274 carries. Unfortunately, he only had two touchdowns on the ground. Madden isn't usually kind to running backs like Jaylen Warren, as he only had 61 carries for 205 yards. He sniped all of Harris's fantasy value though by scoring eight touchdowns.
It's safe to say if this is how the Steelers' 2023 season goes, there will be riots in the streets of Pittsburgh. And a lot of Mike Tomlin nay-sayers will have a big, fat "I told ya so" to scream from the rooftops.
It's equally safe to say that this 100% isn't going to happen. The Steelers still sport one of the league's premiere defenses and as long as the top players remain healthy, there's little chance it regresses much at all despite the turnover at inside linebacker and cornerback. On the offensive side, the scheme might still be in question, but guys like Pickens and Freiermuth are poised for big seasons while the offensive line is much improved.
Maybe the Steelers aren't a playoff team in 2023, but they are certainly far from the worst team in the league.
Nice try Madden.