That didn't play out in Saturday's 30-17 loss to the Ravens. But it's hard not to look at this Steelers team and see a group that is on the rise.
Offensively, everyone will be back in 2015 on a group that finished second in the league in total offense. Yes, that didn't manifest itself into points on Saturday but take an All-Pro running back in his prime off any team and there are going to be issues.
Sure, Ravens fans will complain that they have had plenty of injuries as well - and they have. But not one of Baltimore's injured players is anywhere near as good or as important as Le'Veon Bell is to the Steelers.
Defensively, the Steelers will look quite a bit different in 2015. I don't expect James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor or Brett Keisel to be back - not that those guys were major factors this season, though Harrison certainly had his moments.
What those guys did bring, however, was a presence. And that will be missed.
"This team is not going to be the same next year and it breaks my heart," said a teary-eyed Cameron Heyward, who will completely take on the mantle of defensive leader. "I don’t know what this team is going to look like. I just appreciate everything they’ve done. It’s just tough to think about."
@ I've never felt that Joe Flacco was an "elite" quarterback, a word that gets thrown around all too often about quarterbacks, in my opinion.
But he certainly outplayed Ben Roethlisberger on Saturday, not turning the ball over.
Flacco has done so in the past as well. I don't know if that makes him "elite," but he's pretty good.
@ There were some who argued that the Steelers should not put Polamalu back into the lineup. Those people argued that the defense was better with Will Allen in the lineup.
Sorry, I'm not buying that.
Polamalu is certainly not what he once was, but he still gave this team the best chance to win this game.
@ Without the threat of Bell, the Ravens dropped into a lot of zone coverage and rushed four or five. And the Steelers offensive line, which had played so well this season, gave up a lot of pressure.
Baltimore has some elite pass rushers, one thing the Steelers are certainly lacking. That's Pittsburgh's biggest offseason need, in my opinion.
@ Plenty of attention will be paid to the officiating in this game. And while a couple of calls - or non-calls - were iffy, the Steelers didn't do themselves any favors.
Yes, that was a helmet-to-helmet hit by Mike Mitchell. Yes, Antwon Blake legitimately interfered with Steve Smith. Yes, Jason Worilds took a swing that deserved a personal foul. Yes, Shamarko Thomas hit Jacoby Jones out of bounds.
In other words, the Steelers did a lot of the damage to themselves.
"You know what kind of game this is going to be," said nose tackle Steve McLendon. "You've got to hold your temper. That's for all of us. If you look at the stats, they only had 40-something rushing yards. They couldn't run the ball. We beat ourselves with our mistakes."
That said, I'm astonished - astonished - the Ravens had just two penalties for 14 yards.
@ Sorry, I know it's part of "the rules" of incidental contact, but Lardarius Webb was clearly beaten and interfered with Martavis Bryant on a deep pass in the third quarter. I'm not saying Webb purposely tangled his feet with Bryant and he did have his head turned and was looking at the ball, but there was no way he was going to keep Bryant from catching that pass - unless he tripped him.
It's a bad rule.
@ To me, the play of the game was Roethlisberger getting a little too much air on a pass to Antonio Brown, who was wide open in the end zone, in the second quarter. Brown had to wait for the ball and it gave Ravens safety Darien Stewart time to recover and push a leaping Brown out of bounds - barely.
If Brown comes down with that pass, it's 10-7, Steelers. Instead, Pittsburgh kicked the second of three first-half field goals and trailed 10-9 after two quarters in which it had held the ball for over 20 minutes.
"Their red zone defense, it made us kick three field goals," said guard Ramon Foster. "Three field goals isn't going to win against those guys. They've got a good running game and a quarterback who can throw it up and those guys do what they want with it."