The Pittsburgh Steelers have not finished last in their division since 1988, but BetMGM and numerous other betting outlets have the Black and Gold finishing in the basement of the AFC North this season. BetMGM currently has the Steelers pegged with +450 odds to win the division, behind the Cleveland Browns (+400), Baltimore Ravens (+220) and Cincinnati Bengals (+150).
While many analysts are down on the trajectory of the Steelers in 2023, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick finds it to be an absolutely laughable proposition that the Steelers would finish last in the division, especially under Mike Tomlin, who’s never had a losing season during his 16-year tenure as the Steelers head coach.
“I think this offense led by Kenny Pickett will become a more vertically oriented offense this year,” Riddick said on Get Up. “There will be more big plays down the field. He will be well above 6, 7, 8 yards per attempt in terms of his downfield throwing capabilities. George Pickens is a burgeoning superstar. Mike Tomlin will have the defense playing to its utmost (potential). I think it’s ridiculous that they would even be thought of as the team that would finish last. I think they will be in the hunt for a playoff position. There’s no question about it.”
Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who attends to have a negative opinion on the Steelers, disagreed with Riddick’s assessment. He simply just does not believe in Kenny Pickett.
“When you look at the three other quarterbacks (in the division), I think Deshaun Watson is going to play markedly better this year. I think Cleveland has a little bit of an underrated roster. And then, the two other quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson will be in the thick of the MVP discussion because of having players like Odell Beckham Jr. (and) Zay Flowers, who they took in the first round. And then, obviously, you have Joe Burrow that’s led the Bengals to back-to-back AFC Championship games. So to me, I just don’t think Pittsburgh will be able to score consistently with those other three teams despite having really good weapons in (George) Pickens and Diontae Johnson. I just don’t think Kenny Pickett is anywhere close (as good) to those other three quarterbacks.”
ESPN analyst Jeff Darlington agreed with Tannenbaum, stating who’s going to finish last “if it’s not the Steelers?” This comment fired Riddick up.
“Quite honestly, if I’m Mike Tomlin right now, I’m going, ‘You’re kidding me, right?’ All of a sudden now we have much more confidence in Kevin Stefanski’s track record, and we have a lot more confidence in the ability of Deshaun Watson, to all of a sudden just flip the switch and turn the page from last year? Although, I do think he will be much better. I really do. (Watson) did look like a guy who wasn’t really prepared to play football last year, and 2023 will be a much better indication of what he’s going to look like going forward,” Riddick said.
“But to say that Kenny Pickett all of a sudden now is going to become average-mid Kenny Pickett? We’re saying that he’s not going to make an improvement in year two? Have you seen some of the highlights of George Pickens’ catches so far in training camp? Did you watch the tape of Broderick Jones last year from Georgia? Who’s going to be their starting left tackle. Najee Harris will be much more of a downhill guy. We don’t like Pat Freiermuth? We don’t like Minkah Fitzpatrick? We don’t like T.J. Watt? We don’t like Alex Highsmith? We don’t like Mike Tomlin? I just gave you a bunch of reasons how you don’t pick Pittsburgh.”
The Steelers’ 35-year streak of not finishing last in their division is the longest active streak in the NFL, ahead of the New England Patriots (23 years) and Green Bay Packers (18 years). ESPN analytics projects the Steelers, Patriots and Packers all to finish last in their respective divisions this year.