The Pittsburgh Steelers have a particular way of doing business, and if you’re a fan of the team, you’re probably pretty familiar with it.
The Steelers don’t spend big money in free agency, preferring to lock up their own players. They value their draft picks and don’t sign a lot of bad contracts, so they don’t make a lot of trades. Their team is almost always above average, and so they almost never draft in the early part of the first round, and yet they’re good enough at it to keep repeating that pattern over and over again.
It has made for one of the most consistent franchises in NFL history, with the Steelers making the playoffs in 65% of head coach Mike Tomlin’s 16 seasons and never suffered a below-.500 season.
What it does not do, is make for sexy offseason banter.
The teams that dominate the headlines from February to July every year are usually not the stable, predictable teams with good ownership, competent leadership and consistent results.
As a journalist, I understand. The mess makes the news. Nobody sends television crews to film scenes from a house that isn’t on fire. And so the headlines and the TV talking heads are going to spend their time talking about the teams that are mostly screwing it up.
But I don’t understand the lack of love from the gambling community. It seems the Steelers have become perennially underrated by the bookmakers at this time of year.
The Steelers Vegas win total for 2023 is 8.5 wins. Somehow, despite a rash of free agent signings, three draft picks in the top 50, and a quarterback poised to make second-year improvements after going 7-5 in a starter in 2022 while the team spent most of its season without its best player, Vegas thinks the Steelers are going to be worse in 2023 than 2022.
The comparisons to the 2022 Steelers aren’t the only ones. The Steelers have the worst playoff odds of any team in the division. The Browns, who went 3-3 with Deshaun Watson, and the Ravens, who might be starting Tyler Huntley (2-2 last year) are somehow ahead of them.
Watson could return to form. Lamar Jackson could come back. But those chances seem a lot less likely than steady, consistent improvement from the Steelers’ cadre of young offensive players and a return-to-health by T.J. Watt.
Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that this has happened. The Steelers have beaten their preseason Vegas win total 11 of the last 17 years, the most in the NFL over that span. They’ve done even better more recently, beating the number in seven of the last eight and each of the last three.
Is the Steelers un-sexy way of doing business that keeps them out of the headlines also putting them in the backs of the minds of the oddsmakers? Or maybe is something else afoot? Either way, it seems that the Steelers are consistently being slept on at this time of the year, from all angles.
Of course, don’t expect the Steelers to complain about a lack of attention or a lack of faith from outsiders. Mike Tomlin, as he’ll tell you, does not care.
The team has a plan. They’ve showed us time and again that plan works. It’s probably time to recognize that.