You'll hear NFL teams talk a lot about winning their division as the first goal for their season.
The reason? The surest way to get into the playoffs is to win a division title. And it assures you a home playoff game.
But to win that division title, you should be as good as — if not better than — your division opponents in a number of areas. That won't guarantee success, but it sure will help.
Over the next week or so, we'll take a look at how the Steelers stack up against their AFC North opponents on a position-by-position basis.
Today, we'll look at the most important position, quarterback:
Ben Roethlisberger is coming back from a season-ending elbow injury that limited him to six quarters in 2019. And at 38, there's little doubt that he's not what he once was physically, though GM Kevin Colbert has said on multiple occasions he feels Roethlisberger could be better than he was when we last saw him, after essentially taking the season off and getting his elbow tightened up.
But the dynamics of the division have changed since Roethlisberger last played a full season in 2018.
Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards that season and finished with a career-high 34 touchdowns. For years he's been the top dog at quarterback in the division. But that's not the case any longer with the emergence of the Ravens' Lamar Jackson last season.
Jackson is the reigning NFL MVP and led the Ravens to a 14-2 record in 2019. That didn't add up to a playoff win and Jackson and the Ravens are now 0-2 in the postseason during his tenure. He still has a way to go to match Roethlisberger's 13 playoff wins -- which are tied for fourth-most on the NFL's all-time list -- but Jackson's dual-threat ability makes him the most dynamic QB in the league.
Jackson threw 36 touchdown passes -- against just six interceptions -- last season and also rushed for just over 1,200 yards. He might regress a little this season. It would be unprecedented for him to continue at that pace, but he's still very dangerous.
The Browns and Bengals also haven't ignored the position, as both will now trot out former No. 1-overall picks at the position.
Baker Mayfield didn't have the breakout season many expected in 2019, as the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft struggled once again with turnovers, something that plagued him in his rookie season. He threw 21 interceptions last season, giving him 35 in 30 career games. He's also fumbled 13 times in that span. And despite the 2019 offseason addition of Odell Beckham Jr., Mayfield's completion percentage fell from a very respectable 63.8 percent in his rookie season to 59.4 in year 2.
The Bengals used the top pick in this year's draft to select LSU's Joe Burrow to be what they hope will be a franchise quarterback. They then went all in on Burrow by releasing longtime starter Andy Dalton, despite the fact he only would have cost them around $17 million to keep as a mentor to the rookie; now the only other QB with experience on the roster is second-year player Ryan Finley.
Burrow, like Jackson and Mayfield, won the Heisman Trophy award in college, meaning the Steelers will line up with the only non-Heisman-winning quarterback in the division this season.
QUARTERBACK UNIT RANKINGS
- Ravens -- Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
- Steelers -- Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges/Paxton Lynch
- Browns -- Mayfield, Case Keenum, Garrett Gilbert
- Bengals -- Burrow, Ryan Finley, Jacob Dolegala
Jackson and Griffin give the Ravens the nod here. Rudolph got valuable experience last season with Roethlisberger out and went 5-3 in those games. The Browns signed Keenum as a veteran backup to Mayfield and paid a lot of money to do so. Finley was a complete flop last season in a short stint as the starter, meaning it's Burrow or bust for the Bengals.
- Jackson, Ravens
- Roethlisberger, Steelers
- Mayfield, Browns
- Burrow, Bengals
- Griffin, Ravens
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