Reasons for optimism-
Team finished 6-2 and a blown call from the playoffs
Didn't lose anyone big this year in FA, actually added upgrades
Another year under Haley, promise of more no-huddle
If Ben stays healthy, the team should roll
2 similar backs in Bell and Blount, shouldn't be a huge issue if Bell misses a couple games at some point
Brown is legit at WR, Moore is likely an upgrade over Cotchery, Wheaton and Bryant offer legitimate long term potential
Heath healthy (still don't see a viable fill in on the roster, though)
Oline could be the best in a long time- Munchak is a top flight coach, Pouncey and DeCastro have the ability to be the best at their positions, Foster and Beachum seem like they can be reliable starters and Gilbert/Adams should be at least servicable. Now if they can all stay together for a few games and establish some continuity.....
It appears the coaching and FO identified ILB next to Timmons and FS next to Polamalu as the reason for the lack of splash plays and the failure to prevent big plays- based upon spending the big money on Mitchell to replace Clark and the drafting of Shazier to replace Foote/Williams. As opposed to CB, where FO seems content with what is on the roster.
DLine- Hayward looks like he could be a beast. I think Keisel comes back as a rotational player with Tuitt (who looks like he could be a Hayward clone)
LB- Worilds has always looked better on the Woodley side, rather than the Harrison side. Hopefully he stays healthy and dominates like the prototypical Steeler's LB. Hopefully last year was Jarvis Jones' redshirt year and he'll duplicate what he did in his second season playing in college- where he led the SEC in sacks. If Shazier can avoid the big mistake and make a couple big plays, Timmons could vie for Defensive Player of the Year.
DB- hopefully Cortez is ready to match up with the other team's #1, allowing Ike to take the #2 and Gay to man the slot. If Polamalu can stay healthy and disruptive and Mitchell can duplicate with Ryan Clark was in his prime.... Shamarko gives me hope if Troy gets hurt. A good pass rush would likely go a long way to fixing the secondary.
Suisham is steady, consistent
Dri has the potential to cause the opponent to discuss how not to kick to him. Blount can also return kicks. Hopefully Dri wins the PR job with Brown being relegated to only fielding the punts when the coaching staff wants to have full confidence in the completed, safe, catch.
the punting competition should result in something better than a JV punter with Podlesh and Wing (although I thought the Zoltan was going to accomplish the same thing).
9 of 16 games are against teams with an established QB/HC combo- at Ravens, at Panthers, Colts, Ravens, Saints, at Bengals, at Falcons, Chiefs, Bengals, winning the home games in that group puts the team at 5-4. That leaves 7 games against Browns (twice), Bucs, Jags, Texans, Jets, Titans, beating up on the bad teams, say 6-1 would give the Steelers an 11-5 records and a spot in the playoffs.
The wish list- Ben stays healthy and the defense finishes in the top 5 in sacks and turnover ratio.