Steelers season prediction: 9-7

The six Lombardi trophies that line the front of the library at the Steelers’ practice facility offer the strongest statement that 8-8 is simply not acceptable in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers slipped to mediocrity in 2012 and it is fair to ask whether they will be good enough to be even an eight-win team this season. That is how many questions the Steelers are facing after missing the playoffs for only the second time in Mike Tomlin’s six years as head coach.

The offense could be better in Todd Haley’s second season as coordinator as he and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have a better rapport and understanding of one another.

But a young offensive line must keep Big Ben upright and create enough running room for an underwhelming group of running backs. The Steelers will open the season without injured tight end Heath Miller, putting more pressure on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to emerge opposite Antonio Brown.

A defense that has allowed the fewest yards in the NFL the past two seasons must put more pressure on the quarterback and create more turnovers. Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu staying healthy would go a long way toward the Steelers improving in both areas.

Predicted finish in AFC North: third