Former Pittsburgh Panthers safety and ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick went on The Rich Eisen Show, and unlike some of his colleagues, he isn’t high on the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Largely, Riddick admitted, it’s due to the competition in the AFC, although he’s still skeptical of the offensive line.
“There’s just so many teams. You could say all four teams in the [AFC] East could make the playoffs,” Riddick said. “In Pittsburgh, I just don’t think they’re going to win their division. Their offensive line still scares me, cause it’s still a work in progress, it’s really been their Achilles heel over the past two or three seasons. It’s been the issue. They can’t run the football, they can’t protect, quarterback doesn’t get the ball out quick, they can’t push the ball out quick. They’re always in second-and-long situations cause they can’t run the football.”
Riddick said the Baltimore Ravens’ offense is going to be “exponentially more explosive” and that the Bengals are a top-three team in the NFL. Most of Pittsburgh’s AFC foes, he said, are going to be better running the football.
Riddick isn’t going out on a limb saying the Steelers won’t win the AFC North. They’re the biggest longshot to win the division, although I would argue they should be put ahead of the Cleveland Browns. The thought is that Pittsburgh can do enough to get a wild-card spot and make the playoffs through a revamped offensive line, potent run game and improved downfield passing attack.
That thought is basically dumped with freezing cold water by Riddick, who’s still skeptical of the team’s offensive line. It’s fair given how poor the unit has been in the past, but he failed to mention the addition of Isaac Seumalo. Adding Seumalo along with left tackle Broderick Jones and another year of development for the still pretty young center-guard tandem of Mason Cole and James Daniels, should improve the group.
Where I really disagree with Riddick is his assertion that the AFC East could have four playoff teams. The Jets are better with Aaron Rodgers, and the Dolphins and Bills were playoff teams last year. The Dolphins have one of the better defenses in football now, but Tua Tagovailoa is a major question mark coming off a concussion-riddled 2022 season.
The Patriots added JuJu Smith-Schuster but lost Jakobi Meyers, and their offense was a disaster last season. Is Bill O’Brien, the team’s new offensive coordinator, really going to make that much of a difference? Remember, the Patriots never won a Super Bowl when he was the OC with Tom Brady, although they were a consistent threat. I just don’t think adding O’Brien amidst an otherwise average offseason is elevating the Pats to a playoff team, even if they add DeAndre Hopkins.
At this point, no one really knows what’s going to happen. I think the Steelers should and will be a playoff team, but the AFC is incredibly competitive and one injury or rough patch could sink a season. There are no wrong opinions, and it’s interesting to hear the varied response to Pittsburgh’s chances in 2023. We’ll find out who’s right and who’s wrong soon enough.