(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Steelers have been competitive every year during Ben Roethlisberger's 17-year tenure with the organization. Even when he played all but six quarters in 2019 until suffering a season-ending elbow injury against the Seahawks in Week 2, the Steelers still managed to finish the season 8-8 with Mason Rudolph and Devlin "Duck" Hodges as the signal-callers.
The Steelers haven't had a losing season since 2003, which is the longest streak in the league. However, this season with the 39-year-old Roethlisberger returning for an 18th season and how the Steelers collapsed down the stretch last season, losing five of their last six games, including the embarrassing first-round playoff loss to the Browns, many are skeptical of the Steelers in 2021.
The Steelers are most likely to lose JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree and Alejandro Villanueva in free agency due to having only around $6 million in salary-cap space. Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey have already retired. The team will look drastically different from last year and they'll play a first-place schedule in 2021. They won't have any gimmes with playing NFC East teams and the AFC North is only getting better with three young talented quarterbacks in the division -- Lamar Jackson of Baltimore, Baker Mayfield of Cleveland and Joe Burrow of Cincinnati.
The Steelers have the toughest schedule in the league in 2021 based on their opponents' combined record of 143-111-2 (.563) in 2020. It includes nine games against 2020 playoff teams, counting the Browns and Ravens twice. They'll also have tough road games at Kansas City, Buffalo and Green Bay.
Besides the fact that Roethlisberger is a 39-year-old quarterback, there is some merit to questioning whether he still has a lot left in the tank. He struggled down the stretch last season when the team started losing games and his deep ball didn't look the same as we've been accustomed to.
In the first nine games, Roethlisberger had a 22-4 touchdown-interception ratio and had a quarterback rating over 100 seven times. In his last seven games of the season (including the playoff loss), Roethlisberger had a 15-10 touchdown-interception ratio and had a quarterback rating over 100 just once.
Roethlisberger's deep ball was substandard in 2020 and he averaged just 6.3 yards per pass attempt, the lowest of his career when playing more than two games (2019 season).
NFL media's Marc Sessler was on the NFL Network recently and said he expects Roethlisberger to have a type of season that Brett Favre had in 2010. To refresh your memory, Favre was a 41-year-old quarterback for the Vikings in 2010 and was coming off a great season where he completed 68.4 of his passes for 4,202 yards and had a touchdown-interception ratio of 33-7, along with a quarterback rating of 107.2. and led Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game but fell to the Saints. It would be a disaster of a season for Favre in 2010, however, as he completed 60.6 of his passes for 2,509 yards and had a brutal touchdown-interception ratio of 11-19, along with a quarterback rating of 69.9. The Vikings finished the year 6-10 and Favre was 5-8 as a starter. He retired following the 2010 season.
"I would say we are now at a point where the Pittsburgh Steelers have a bigger question at quarterback than an answer," Sessler said. "And that question becomes even more grave and concerning a year from now. I'm getting 2010 Brett Favre vibes from Big Ben. And I look at the offensive line as a unit that has no longer Maurkice Pouncey, (Alejandro) Villanueva is out the door. You don't have much money to fix these issues. Yes, you got a good defense, but if Big Ben breaks down, we are in an AFC North that could look very different."