Discussion

Steelers will win the AFC North

Improved run-blocking and pass rush could lift Pittsburgh to division crown

Updated: June 18, 2014, 12:47 PM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider

Last season marked the first time the Pittsburgh Steelers have missed the playoffs in consecutive years since they were absent from the playoffs for the 1998-2000 campaigns. The good news for the Black and Gold? It is unlikely that postseason drought will extend into a third season, as multiple factors point toward the Steelers making a return to the playoffs in 2014 after an 8-8 campaign last year, and winning the AFC North. Here's why.

Their run-blocking prowess could reach elite levels with the return of Maurkice Pouncey

The Steelers bring back four starters who served as the core of a blocking wall from last year's offensive line, a unit that posted a superb total in the good blocking rate (GBR) metric. GBR measures how often an offensive blocking wall gives a ball carrier good blocking, which is very roughly defined as not allowing the defense to do anything to disrupt a rushing attempt. Pittsburgh's 44.7 percent GBR last season ranked ninth in the league.

The fifth starting spot is at center, which should be upgraded with the return of Pouncey from a knee injury that cost him all but one game of the 2013 season.

MORE NFL HEADLINES