Over/Under: 9.5 Wins For the Steelers

As we continue to get ready for the 2010 season, let’s play some over/under. Today’s topic: How many wins for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010?

The good news for the Steelers during the 2009 season is that they were defending a Super Bowl title for the second time in five years. Always a good sign.

The bad news? For the second time in five years they failed to defend that title by falling short of the playoffs.

It was a bizarre season that included a fantastic start (6-2), an embarrassing five-game losing streak — with losses to bottom-feeders Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland … at home … with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback — an historically bad effort from the kick coverage and a number of injuries to core players, including Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith.

Then the real chaos started: the offseason.

Ben Roethlisberger found himself in the news for all of the wrong reasons (again), Santonio Holmes waked-and-baked his way out of town, Willie Colon and Limas Sweed suffered season-ending injuries (one of those is more important than the other) and various members of the 2005 and 2008 Super Bowl teams found their way back home (Bryant  McFadden, Antwaan Randle-El and Larry Foote).

So, here we are.

Working In Their Favor: Even without Roethlisberger for 4-6 games, and without Santonio Holmes, this is still a very, very talented football team (It’s essentially the same defense that was the best in football two years ago … Heath Miller, Hines Ward, Rashard Mendenhall, Mike Wallace … that’s a lot of skill). If the Steelers can get healthy seasons out of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith it will be a huge boost to a defense that was a disappointment time-and-time again in the fourth quarter of games, particularly during that mid-season five-game losing streak. Polamalu and Smith are players that are among the best in the league at their positions, and simply can’t be replaced by backups. Getting them back is crucial.

McFadden’s return should be a nice boost to the secondary, while he, Randle-El and Foote were all key players, and by most accounts, good people in the locker room for teams that won footballs ultimate prize.

Working Against Them: The offensive line is still a weakness, even with the additions of Maurkice Pouncey and Flozell Adams.

The secondary lacks proven playmakers outside of Polamalu, and some of the players on the defensive side of the ball (Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Kiesel, James Farrior … even James Harrison) are starting to get a bit long in the tooth.

Of course, Roethlisberger put them in a bad spot for the first month of the season, which puts the offense in the hands of Byron Leftwich and/or Dennis Dixon.

And how’s this for a shocking stat: If they allow three kickoff returns for touchdowns, it will be an improvement.

Basically, this is going to be a very interesting season. How many wins for this team? Can it win more than 10?

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