LA Times NFL reporter Bob Oates, who goes back to Super Bowl I, has the Steelers ranked #2, behind New England and ahead of Cincinnati, as the three teams in the "First Division" of the NFL this year.
Oates has seen it all and has some interesting observations:
This is the first time the NFL has ever simultaneously had four passers as talented as Tom Brady of New England, Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh, Carson Palmer of Cincinnati and Peyton Manning of Indianapolis.
So look for the games to be a little different, more footballs in the air and fewer running plays, in a league that now appears to be stronger and more evenly matched than ever, top to bottom -- most noticeably at the very top. There, the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers seem jointly supreme....
With regard to Ben and the Steelers, Oates has these thoughts:
The Steelers will be defending the league championship with Roethlisberger, the strangest good quarterback in the history of pro football. A giant of a man who is listed at 6-foot-5, though he's obviously larger, Big Ben towers over teammates and opponents alike while powering the ball with rare accuracy at all distances....
The problem for the Steelers is whether Roethlisberger can continue to bail out an obtuse coach, Bill Cowher, a run-and-defend old-timer who, in last winter's Super Bowl, let the Steelers pass just often enough to take out Seattle, 21-10....
Given my personal bias against so many predictions once again jumping on the Colts bandwagon as it heads towards its annual trip over the cliff, I particularly enjoyed this passage, in which Oates explains why he ranks the Colts as #8 rather than #1 like everyone else:
Eight -- Indianapolis Colts: Manning is a great self-made passer who can beat most regular-season rivals -- sometimes 13 of them in a row. And because running back Edgerrin James is gone now, Manning, forced to pass more often, will be better than ever. But he isn't a natural quarterback and so, in big games, he tends to flame out.
Everybody is putting out preseason rankings right now, but Oates's perspectives are worth the read to me.