Loaded Steelers on Super Bowl cusp despite playoff disappointment

Here’s a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished the season 13-3. The tiers consist of: Realistic Super Bowl expectations; Should contend, but there are question marks; Middle of the pack; Lots of work to do; and Nowhere close.

Westgate odds of winning Super Bowl LIII: 8-1

Realistic Super Bowl expectations: The divisional playoff loss to Jacksonville showed a few cracks in the teeth of the Steelers' defense, but this is far from a rebuild. The Steelers have won 45 regular season games since 2014 thanks to a stout offensive line, explosive playmakers, the stability of Ben Roethlisberger and a slowly improving defense.

They are too close to overhaul anything.

The loss of Ryan Shazier deeply affected the on-field product late in the season and forces the team to reassess its inside linebacker position. The Steelers were vulnerable up and over the middle, and with an unimpressive crop of inside linebackers in free agency, the draft will be crucial to find help alongside Vince Williams and at least one piece in the secondary. Erratic play at safety and corner late in the season proved costly. Matching up with the top offenses will still come down to the ability to mix-and-match coverages. But, overall, the Steelers had a top-5 defense for much of the year on the way to a franchise-high 56 sacks. There's a solid foundation behind Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and others.

The offense is lacking big plays in the running game. The Steelers were one of two NFL teams with no rushing attempts of 30 or more yards. A potent change-of-pace back opposite Le'Veon Bell is necessary. A healthy James Conner might fill that role in year two. But the Steelers will have their most stout receiving corps back at the disposal of Roethlisberger, who was playing his best football late in the year with nearly 350 yards per game. Roethlisberger should have more command than ever under new coordinator Randy Fichtner, his quarterback coach. One of the league's best starting offensive lines is under contract at nearly $40 million in cap space in 2018.