Way-too-early floor, ceiling for the Steelers next season

AFC Wildcard Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
AFC Wildcard Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills / Kathryn Riley/GettyImages

Even with the 2023-24 NFL season having just finished, many Steelers fans out there are looking ahead to September, eagerly searching for anything that could imply that their guys are on the brink of a breakthrough.

But, while I understand such hopeful scrutinizing, I wouldn’t go as far as to say I recommend it. This is because I refuse to let my fanaticism take away from the fact that so much is unknown about a season we are several months out from, and when you think about it, yinzers should understand that more than most.

From continuing to push for a divisive Kenny Pickett being QB1 to the Arthur Smith hire being questionable at best and detrimental at worst, few NFL teams out there could dream of embodying uncertainty better than the Steelers.

And mind you that goes without even mentioning the talks of making a push for some other QB (the most prominent name floating around right now being Chicago’s Justin Fields), any looming cap space issues, or the lack of a “complete” schedule with dates/order of opponents.

With that said, I don’t know if the Steelers could be any further from the point of making exact predictions. However, I can’t deny that suspense has been known to eat away at me as well, so I’ve come to what I feel is a happy medium: Approximating their floor and ceiling.

The last time I did something like this, I would say it worked out rather well, as while I framed 2022-23 Pittsburgh’s success between four and 12 wins, it went on to finish with nine. The Steelers hit quite close to the middleman with that one, which I feel proves a projected floor and ceiling to be accurate; if they end up splitting the difference between what I see as their absolute best and absolute worst, would that not show that I’d adequately ballparked their true limit?

Therefore, taking on this challenge not only scratches the itch that comes with looking ahead to next season but also allows me to outdo myself, as my 2022 crack at this wasn’t done until we were in July.

But enough ego-stroking, let’s get down to business.

Floor: 6-11

Okay we already gotta come to a screeching halt here: If you are anything like the readers I had last time, you might be scoffing at this and saying “there’s no way the Steelers go 6-11!” In response, I wish to calmly remind you that the records you’re seeing today ARE NOT PREDICTIONS.

Rather, they are the absolute worst and absolute best I believe the Steelers could possibly do at this point in time. In other words, 6-11 is how I think the Steelers would finish if they lost every game that had the slightest stench of defeat coming off of it.

Speaking of which, the hypothetical low starts with Pittsburgh's losses to Kansas City, the LA Chargers, and Dallas, along with at Denver, at Las Vegas, at Philadelphia, and at Indianapolis. Then, to add to those, I have the Steelers going 2-4 in divisional play, splitting games with Baltimore and Cleveland while getting swept by a Bengals squad that should hopefully have a healthy Joe Burrow back in at QB.

Especially when keeping their aforementioned offensive concerns, their infamous tendency to collapse against opponents that have no business beating them, and the brutality of the AFC North in mind, such a performance is not nearly as unreasonable as some diehards would believe at first glance.

Not only that, but with the fan consensus being that Pittsburgh will be stuck in its old ways for the foreseeable future, 6-11 is just a worst-case scenario is far closer to a compliment than an insult.

Ceiling: 13-4

If you’re someone who still thought I wasn’t serious about these records purposely being extremes, you should be coming to your senses now, as 13-4 is the same record we recently saw lock the Ravens in as the NFL’s best regular-season team.

This is an outcome that can only be achieved if the Steelers win every game outside of sure losses; said losses would be suffered against Kansas City, Dallas, Cincinnati, and some road game that they should probably win—yes, I’m being serious.

Those first two should need little explanation, as the Chiefs are back-to-back Super Bowl Champions whom the Steelers haven’t beaten in their last three encounters (the last two have been downright embarrassing), and the Cowboys just had the nation’s passing touchdowns leader, Dak Prescott, lead them to the two-seed in the NFC playoff bracket. So yeah, not too fun of squads.

From there, I’m giving Pittsburgh the benefit of the doubt in AFC North play through just how well it’s managed to compete in there despite the heights its rivals have reached. However, I don’t have the Steelers going 6-0 in there due to just how relentless it nonetheless is (currently the toughest division in the league and amongst the toughest ever).

As for why I made a point of choosing Cincinnati in particular, the Bengals—when healthy—have given the Steelers far more trouble than the Ravens and Browns have in recent memory. Yes, I know their last matchup saw Pittsburgh win 34-11, but with that being a better showing against them than the ones we had seen in their previous six meetings and a game that Joe Burrow missed, it obviously can’t be taken as a new status quo.

Lastly, we have what I’ll label the “pathetic defeat.” We’re not beyond seeing two or three of these (see: Home games against Arizona and New England last season), but with this being the best I could see Pittsburgh doing, I’ll keep it to just one.

As far as who would be on the winning end, I’ve decided to leave that entirely up to your imagination. Sure, I believe a few of the names on Pittsburgh’s schedule are safer bets than most, such as the Commanders, Giants, and Falcons; it’s just if those duds against the Cardinals and Patriots taught me anything, it’s that virtually no team lacks the potential to humiliate the Steelers.

But hey, if 2024-25 Pittsburgh was to play at a consistency strong enough to where it only suffered a loss like those once, I’d say it’s a season well done even if they don’t quite hit the 13-4 mark.

What should all of this tell us?

Assuming the Steelers finish next season with the win count they just gave us (10, which is certainly a practical target), they will have hit about as close to the middle of the gap between today’s approximations as they possibly could've.

Does that mean I’m fixing to knock this year’s edition of the “floor/ceiling challenge” outta the park? Maybe. Does it mean we simply haven’t learned much about what the 2024-25 slate has in store for Pittsburgh? That’s even more likely.

Next. 5 NFL cap casualties the Steelers must target in free agency. 5 NFL cap casualties the Steelers must target in free agency. dark

Either way, first impressions imply the Steelers are in for another decent-but-not-great year. While thoughts on that are sure to have changed once we’re well into the summer, it’s a solid base to build off of as this offseason stretch gets underway.decent but not great