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Graziano: Steelers Will Have Tough Time Winning AFC North In 2024



The Pittsburgh Steelers have won the AFC North seven times since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007. During that span, the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals have each won five division titles, and the Cleveland Browns have yet to win one.

That being said, ESPN NFL insider Dan Graziano, believes it’s an “overreaction” to say the Steelers can win the AFC North this season.

On Tuesday morning’s airing of Get Up, Graziano said “I think it’s going to be tough for the Steelers to win the AFC North,” before making cases for each of the other three AFC North teams.

It’s been four years since the Steelers won the AFC North, and the last time they accomplished that feat was when a certain Hall of Fame signal-caller was still taking snaps: Ben Roethlisberger. Recent quarterback play has certainly hindered the Steelers’ chances, with Roethlisberger’s final year in 2021 a shell of what he once was, followed by two shaky seasons of a Kenny Pickett and Matt Canada-led offense.

It hasn’t helped that some of the other AFC North competitors have found their franchise guys, Joe Burrow for the Bengals and Lamar Jackson for the Ravens. The Steelers have still managed to hang around in the wild-card race, and they’ve still never reached the bottom of the division, but big changes were necessary for the team to compete for the division title going forward. Fortunately, Omar Khan stepped in and accelerated that change, directly addressing the quarterback position by acquiring Russell Wilson and Justin Fields.

Graziano doesn’t think the changes at quarterback will be enough to propel the Steelers to the top of the AFC North.

“We can talk all we want about the great prices for which the Steelers got these two quarterbacks, but we do have to remember, they were not exactly fighting off a whole bunch of teams for the services of Russell Wilson and Justin Fields,” he said. “I think the Steelers have a chance to be good but it’s going to be tough to favor them in the division.”

There’s some truth to what he’s saying, but he’s overstating it a bit. The Wilson deal was finalized before the nine-time Pro Bowler could even meet with any other suitors outside of the New York Giants. He was likely to meet with several other teams like the Las Vegas Raiders, but the Steelers and Wilson hit it off quickly and agreed on a deal. Meanwhile, the biggest team the Steelers may have had to “fight off” for Justin Fields was his own team — the Chicago Bears – which had to decide between keeping him or taking a quarterback with the first overall pick of the 2024 draft.

While Graziano is probably right that the Steelers shouldn’t be favored to win the division, considering the recent success of the Ravens and Bengals when healthy and the Browns’ surprising 2023 campaign, I think he’s not accounting for the potential impact of the quarterback upgrades. The Steelers finished 9-8 and then 10-7 in the last two seasons with a combination of Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, and Mason Rudolph at quarterback. It’s safe to say that it was one of the worst quarterback situations in the league, and the Steelers still managed consecutive winning seasons and a playoff berth.

Wilson and Fields might not be Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but with Tomlin’s track record and a formidable defense and running game, it’s hard to think that the Steelers will be worse than they were the last two years. If Wilson or Fields can show more poise in the pocket and create some explosive plays like they have throughout their careers, the Steelers will absolutely be in the mix to win the AFC North.

If the Steelers can nail this 2024 NFL Draft and sign another key player or two, then the rest of the AFC North better watch out.


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