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The Steelers got off to a franchise-best 11-0 start last season before they collapsed down the stretch, losing five of their last six games, including the embarrassing wild-card game loss to the Browns at Heinz Field. For this reason, many are down on the Steelers heading into the 2021 season, coupled with the fact that they have the toughest schedule based on their opponents' combined record of 155-115-2 (.574) in 2020. Their schedule includes 10 games against 2020 playoff teams, counting the Browns and Ravens twice.
Ben Roethlisberger is also 39 and didn't play well late in 2020, either. He told the media last week that he felt "worn down" at the end of the year. Pundits like Adam Schein of CBS Sports and Mike Tannenbaum of ESPN think Roethlisberger is washed up and the Steelers will finish last in the AFC North.
Former Steelers head coach and Hall of Famer Bill Cowher doesn't see that as the case, however, as he believes the Steelers are still a playoff team with Roethlisberger at quarterback.
"I think they will, they'll be the hunt," Cowher said when asked on First Take recently if the Steelers will make the playoffs in 2021. "When you look at them, yes the division's got tougher, but I love the pick of Najee Harris. I think they need to get back to running the football and having more balance in the offense, take a little bit of that pressure off of Ben. He's got a lot of weapons. It's all going to come down to the offensive line. There's a lot of change that's taken place there. If they can come together, I think the best way to help an offensive line -- run the football. And defensively they get Devin Bush back and that's a top-tier defense. So, yes the division's gotten better, but they've got a lot of veterans in that locker room that know how to win close games. And that's what it's going to come down to, and they got a great kicker in (the) kicking game. So, I think they'll be in the hunt, and yes, I will say they will make the playoffs."
The Steelers have at least been in the hunt for the playoffs in all 17 of Roethlisberger's seasons, even in 2019 when Roethlisberger played all but six quarters before suffering a season-ending elbow injury, Devlin "Duck" Hodges had the Steelers at 8-5 before they lost the final three games of the season and missed the postseason. In fact, the Steelers have been eliminated from the playoffs just twice heading into Week 17 games since 2004 -- 2006 against the Bengals and 2012 against the Browns.
The Steelers also haven't had a losing season since 2003, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. So even with the odds stacked against the Steelers in 2021, it would be foolish to count them out and expect them to not be at least in the hunt for the playoffs.