NFL Power Rankings: How far can Steelers go if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't bounce back?

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The Pittsburgh Steelers should be elated to beat the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. That should hold up as one of the better road wins of the season. The defense in particular was excellent. 

And here's where we get to the concern. Which is their future Hall of Fame quarterback. 

Ben Roethlisberger was not great again on Sunday. The defense carried the day. The special teams got a blocked punt for a touchdown. Diontae Johnson saved Roethlisberger on a underthrown throw and made a great play for a crucial touchdown in the end zone. It was a prime example of why assigning a quarterback an individual record is a bad idea. It's going to be hard for the Steelers to win this way all season, if that's what to come. 

It's not like Roethlisberger looking like he was playing in slow motion is a huge surprise. You could tell from the start of the offseason that the reunion of the Steelers and Roethlisberger for another year was a bit uneasy.

Roethlisberger had to take a pay cut. The Steelers, who were in a bad cap situation, seemed fine moving on if Roethlisberger didn’t accept it. That’s not typical for a starting quarterback.

We knew, after Roethlisberger struggled physically late last season coming off elbow surgery, that he might never bounce back to his normal form. That was especially true at age 39.

On Sunday Roethlisberger was late on many throws and simply missed on others. He was 6-of-12 for 57 yards in the first half, despite throwing to perhaps the league's deepest set of receiving talent. Roethlisberger’s first touchdown should have been broken up and maybe intercepted, but it was tipped in the air and Johnson made a great adjustment to pull it in for a go-ahead touchdown. Roethlisberger made a few nice throws, but not many. It was a lot of short passing, which limited the Steelers offense last season too. Pittsburgh had just 252 yards and 16 first downs, mostly because the passing offense wasn't good. 

That makes Pittsburgh an interesting team. The defense, particularly with stars like T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, might be the best in the NFL again. The skill-position players are obviously talented. The coach has a Hall of Fame resume. And the quarterback might not be much better than he was last season when the Steelers fell apart. 

How far can a team like that go? It can be a championship formula, but that's rare. Maybe Roethlisberger will look better. It's OK to be rusty in Week 1 and Buffalo should be a pretty good defense. And it's just a one-game sample; plenty of performances — good and bad — that we saw in Week 1 won't be repeated.  

All we know is that Week 1 Roethlisberger looked a lot like late 2020 season Roethlisberger. Even after a huge opening win, that's something the Steelers need to wonder about. 

Ben Roethlisberger had a slow start to the season, though the Steelers won. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Ben Roethlisberger had a slow start to the season, though the Steelers won. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Here are the power rankings following Week 1 of the NFL season: 

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1, Last week: 30)

Through all of the offseason nonsense with Urban Meyer, it was still fair to wait and see how he fared in a game that counted. And the Jaguars looked absolutely lost against a Texans team that was expected to be the worst in the NFL. Well, the Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL. And after one game, it's clear they made a bad hire with Meyer. Maybe an all-time bad hire. The question becomes, how quickly will the Jaguars admit a mistake and move on? Hopefully it happens before they waste too much of Trevor Lawrence. 

31. Houston Texans (1-0, LW: 32)

I doubt the Texans end up being very good, but Sunday had to be great for rookie head coach David Culley, overlooked quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the rest of a team that was disrespected all offseason. That was a thorough win. 

30. Detroit Lions (0-1, LW: 31)

If you just look at the score and see "41-33," you might think the Lions kept it close against San Francisco. They did not. There was a late rally and shockingly they had a chance to tie the game at the end, but it was a blowout for 58 minutes. Losing cornerback Jeff Okudah, a potential building block, to a ruptured Achilles is a more important blow. 

29. Atlanta Falcons (0-1, LW: 26)

There's nothing positive to say. The defense was absolutely shredded. Somehow, Kyle Pitts barely made any impact. Matt Ryan will probably play better going forward, but he looked awful on Sunday and is 36 years old, which makes his struggles concerning. This was a miserable debut for rookie coach Arthur Smith, in every way possible.

28. New York Jets (0-1, LW: 29)

The Jets line is a problem. And tackle Mekhi Becton has a knee injury that will keep him out for a while. That's a big concern for the development of quarterback Zach Wilson. They get the Patriots next. 

27. New York Giants (0-1, LW: 24)

Year three is huge for Daniel Jones, and the first game was bad. He wasn't alone; the Giants as a whole looked bad except Sterling Shepard and few others. That was a concerning game, especially for Jones.

26. Chicago Bears (0-1, LW: 23)

Matt Nagy is coaching himself out of a job. His insistence on starting Andy Dalton is weird. Dalton was exactly what you'd think: He wasn't bad, but he surely wasn't good. And he won't be. There's no real reason to start him over Justin Fields. Add in the Bears' multiple breakdowns on defense, and it looked like a team without a lot of hope. At least until Fields takes over at QB.

25. Minnesota Vikings (0-1, LW: 17)

That was a rough way to lose, with Dalvin Cook fumbling in Cincinnati territory late in overtime and then allowing a fourth-and-inches pass that led to a game-winning field goal. The Vikings thought their defense would be much improved, and that's questionable after one week.

24. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0, LW: 27)

The Bengals were not lying about Joe Mixon's workload increasing. He had 29 carries, four catches and ended up with 150 total yards. Joe Burrow was the story of Sunday's win and rightfully so, but Mixon is going to make Burrow's life easier. 

23. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0, LW: 28)

Jalen Hurts was one most impressive players of Week 1. DeVonta Smith looked great. The Eagles as a whole were very good. They're healthy and let's be honest: Doug Pederson might have turned into a bad coach by the end. Like a lot of Week 1 results it's tough to know exactly what this means for the Eagles going forward, but that was really good.

22. Carolina Panthers (1-0, LW: 25)

Perhaps the most interesting unit coming out of Week 1 is the Panthers defense. The defensive line was fantastic. Maybe that speaks more to the Jets offensive line, but it's worth keeping an eye on. Carolina has a lot of quality players on that side of the ball, and maybe it's coming together. 

21. Indianapolis Colts (0-1, LW: 13)

The Colts weren't awful, but giving up a long touchdown in the final minute to Tyler Lockett changed the game. One thing that needs to get better is the Colts offensive line, which is usually quite reliable.

20. Washington Football Team (0-1, LW: 16)

The good news is Taylor Heinicke is still an upgrade over what Washington had at quarterback last season. But they picked Ryan Fitzpatrick for a reason, and it's a harsh blow to see him go down in Week 1 with a hip injury. Fitzpatrick is on IR with no set return date.

19. Dallas Cowboys (0-1, LW: 18)

Let's calm down about Ezekiel Elliott's lack of work. The Buccaneers run defense is great; the Cowboys' best chance to win was exactly what they did, throwing outside. And it almost worked. Elliott will be just fine, but forcing inefficient carries to a back in the name of being balanced is stupid football.

18. Tennessee Titans (0-1, LW: 9)

We knew the defense wouldn't be great. If the offense isn't going to be good, there's a real problem. Tennessee did nothing right on offense. They couldn't block, either protecting Ryan Tannehill or opening holes for Derrick Henry. Their star receivers were mostly non-factors, maybe because Tannehill had Chandler Jones in his lap all day. It was just one game, but it was alarming. 

17. Las Vegas Raiders (1-0, LW: 22)

Who knows where the Raiders' season will go from here, but that amazing game Monday night will have a special place in franchise history. Hosting Las Vegas fans for the first time at Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders won one of the wackiest games you'll ever see, with Derek Carr eventually floating up a game-winning touchdown to Zay Jones in overtime.

16. Denver Broncos (1-0, LW: 21)

Von Miller's two sacks might have been an even bigger deal than Teddy Bridgewater looking very good. The Broncos are going to have a good defense, especially if Miller is all the way back. One problem is Jerry Jeudy's high ankle sprain. He's the Broncos' best offensive player and that injury is a brutal one for receivers.

15. New England Patriots (0-1, LW: 12)

The Patriots weren't bad and neither was Mac Jones. Had Damien Harris not fumbled at Miami's 9-yard line late in the game, the story of that game would have been a lot different. Still, it's a home loss to a division foe and we're not used to seeing that from the Patriots. It's a different era for the Pats, but they can still be a playoff team.

14. Green Bay Packers (0-1, LW: 4)

I don't think the Packers will be bad. But Week 1 was awful. And we all know that while the "Last Dance " narrative is fun, all the off-season drama might bubble up again and become a problem if the Packers are a few games under .500 in October.

13. Miami Dolphins (1-0, LW: 11)

Tua Tagovailoa looked healthy and confident, two things that weren't necessarily the case last season. It wasn't the prettiest win, but it was a division road win. Miami is the only team that got one of those in Week 1.

12. Baltimore Ravens (0-1, LW: 6)

The Ravens were in a tough spot Monday night, with their injuries and playing in Las Vegas' first home regular-season game with fans. Still, the doesn't totally excuse the breakdowns. Lamar Jackson turned it over twice in the fourth quarter and overtime. The defense kept giving up crucial plays when a stop would have ended the game. All that came after blowing a 14-0 lead. That's a tough loss.

11. Cleveland Browns (0-1, LW: 10)

I don't want to be too hard on the Browns, but they have graduated from moral victories. Losing at Kansas City is not the worst thing but when you have a double-digit lead, and have multiple chances in the fourth quarter to make a drive and win the game, you have to win if you want to be labeled a contender. They can learn from Week 1 though.

10. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0, LW: 14)

Justin Herbert didn't put up a startling stat line, but mostly played well against an excellent Washington defense. Not that there should have been much doubt but he looks like the real deal.

9. Buffalo Bills (0-1, LW: 3)

The problem with Week 1 is it's just one week. Jacksonville beat Indianapolis in Week 1 last season and look how those seasons turned out. Do we really believe the Bills aren't very good? Or was Sunday a tough game — and a one-game sample — against a top-flight defense? I'm willing to give the Bills another chance. A Week 2 game at Miami will be telling.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0, LW: 15)

Minkah Fitzpatrick might end up being an NFL defensive player of the year candidate. It's hard for a safety to win but he adds a ton of value to the Steelers defense. He was great on Sunday.

7. New Orleans Saints (1-0, LW: 20)

Let's not get too crazy about Jameis Winston's first game. He was 14-of-20 for 148 yards. The five touchdowns were great and he played under control, but there will be more tests to pass. Winston's 148 yards were the fewest ever in a five-touchdown game. It was a good first step though, and the Saints as a whole looked phenomenal.

6. Arizona Cardinals (1-0, LW: 19)

That's why the Cardinals were smart to not give in to Chandler Jones' trade request. The brass there needs to win now, and Jones makes a huge difference. He had five sacks and will be one of the NFL's best defensive players. The Cardinals looked great on both sides of the ball.

5. Seattle Seahawks (1-0, LW: 8)

Two plays that looked a lot easier than they were: Tyler Lockett made an unbelievable adjustment to catch a touchdown over his shoulder ... 

... then Russell Wilson threw a pass that went about 60 yards in the air and hit Lockett in stride for a game-changing touchdown. These plays were the difference in a win. 

4. Los Angeles Rams (1-0, LW: 7)

Everything looked great. I wonder if that was because the Bears are a really bad team, but part of being a contender is taking care of business against bad teams. The Rams did just that.

3. San Francisco 49ers (1-0, LW: 5)

Think of the 49ers this way: They barely used Trey Lance, who is their most talented quarterback. Trey Sermon, a back everyone had high hopes for, was surprisingly inactive. Raheem Mostert got hurt early in the game. Brandon Aiyuk, perhaps because he's barely back from a hamstring injury, didn't get a target after playing so well last season. And the 49ers still put up 41 points on the road. All those aforementioned players are very good and will be factors as we go on. The 49ers are going to be really good.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0, LW: 2)

Well, Tom Brady still is in his prime. The Buccaneers have a lot to work on, but realistically it's pretty good if you can turn it over four times and still win a game against a talented Cowboys team. 

1. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0, LW: 1)

In the second half of last season, the Chiefs kept doing just enough to win. They didn't blow anyone out. It's not a good habit for an elite team to get into. Yet on Sunday, the Chiefs fell behind and had to rally to win. The Browns are good and the Chiefs will get healthier, but it'll be nice to see them dominate some opponents (it probably won't happen at Baltimore in Week 2). 

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