Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

Some had begun to doubt the deal would get done, but the Steelers remained steadfast that they would get star linebacker T.J. Watt signed before the start of the season.

They did that Thursday, signing Watt to a 4-year, $112-million extension that will make him the highest-paid – based upon average salary – defensive player in the league.

So much for that “drama.”

And so much for the Steelers and the “cheap” tag that had begun to be bandied about by some.

This, of course, forgets the fact the Steelers have paid Ben Roethlisberger more than a quarter of a billion dollars in his career.

Or the fact Antonio Brown was at one point the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL.

Or the fact when LaMarr Woodley signed a contract extension in 2011, he was the second-highest paid defensive player in the league.

You get the idea.

Watt will be worth this deal. And don’t believe for a second that he got “quarterback” money, as some have argued.

His $28 million average once was quarterback money. But in the past two seasons, multiple quarterbacks have signed deals worth an average of $40 million or more per year.

  • The Steelers have long been lauded for their stability. From the ownership to the coaches to the players, the Steelers seldom have a lot of turnover from year to year.

That’s what makes this year so interesting.

The Steelers open the season Sunday in Buffalo, and it’s anyone’s guess how the season will end. You see it in the national prognostications that have the Steelers doing everything from successfully defending their AFC North title to finishing last in the division, from reaching the Super Bowl to having a top-10 pick in next year’s draft.

The reality likely lies somewhere in between.

The Steelers haven’t had a losing season since 2003, the year before they selected Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of the draft. It seems highly unlikely they’re suddenly going to fall apart as a franchise and win the four or five games some predict. Yes, I’m referring to the clown somehow employed by several major media organizations including NFL.com who is Adam Schein.

But it’s also hard to look at this team’s offensive line and see it reaching the Super Bowl or even AFC Championship. To be fair, you won’t find many –if any – doing that. But FootballOutsiders.com gives the Steelers a 2.2 percent chance to win the Super Bowl. That’s not to just get there. That’s to win the championship.

Those are better odds than even everyone’s offseason darlings, the Browns, who are given a 1.7 percent chance of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Again, the reality is likely somewhere in between those two extremes, but the point is the projected outcomes usually aren’t that large for an organization such as the Steelers.

But that’s what happens when you have an opening day lineup as the Steelers will – one that includes 11 new starters. Realize that players such as Vince Williams and Stefen Wisniewski started the Steelers’ regular-season opener last year against the New York Giants.

However, a team that will start four rookies on offense is bound to have some struggles.

That said, a team that employs T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Heyward on defense and has an established veteran quarterback such as Roethlisberger figures to be in the mix regardless of the schedule.

  • My picks to make the playoffs in the AFC are Buffalo, Kansas City, Cleveland, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, the Chargers and New England.

In the NFC, I have Green Bay, Tampa Bay, the Rams, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle and New Orleans.

I’ll take the Bills over the Rams in the Super Bowl.

This week’s picks

Steelers (plus 6½) at Bills: The Steelers allowed 19 offensive points to the high-powered Buffalo offense last December. They forced five punts and two turnovers to a Buffalo offense that punted an NFL-low 41 times all season. The Steelers should be able to generate a running game in this one. But this is a tough spot. Take the Steelers to cover in a 27-21 loss

Cleveland (plus 5½) at Kansas City: Several Browns have already gone on record as saying this will be the first of two meetings between these teams. Be careful what you ask for. I’ll take Andy Reid with an entire offseason to plan in this one. Take the Chiefs to cover in a 38-27 win

Baltimore (minus 4) at Las Vegas: The Ravens were so distraught after losing running back Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters on back-to-back plays in practice to torn ACLs that they canceled practice. They’re reeling. This will be the Raiders’ first game in their new stadium in front of fans. Upset special. Take the Raiders, 24-20

Minnesota (minus 3) at Cincinnati: Can the entire AFC North go winless this weekend? Absolutely. Take the Vikings, 27-23

N.Y. Jets (plus 4) at Carolina: Sam Darnold in a revenge game against rookie quarterback Zach Wilson making his first career start. The Jets had a rough preseason with injuries. Take the Panthers, 26-17

Last season ATS: 44-45-6

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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