There are probably more "ifs" in this scenario than other more negative ones, however, I do think there is a chance things could unfold this way.
- Dwyer, the ultimate lazy back, eyes this contract year as the one time he is going to put in a full effort all season and all game long. The guy has talent. We have seen it. He can make plays where there are no holes to speak of. Instead of getting fatter as the season proceeds, he comes into camp in great shape and stays that way all season long. Eying his best chance to earn a big deal, he goes balls out and ends up a top 5 back in rushing yards for the season with 1,350 yards.
- Between the new o-line philosophy and players improving through experience, the line becomes one of the best in the entire NFL. The unit of Adams, Foster, Pouncy, DD and Gilbert gel and actually stay healthy all season. What was once a weakness becomes a strength seemingly overnight.
- Sick of hearing all the criticism, Tomlin refuses to allow any discipline problems to creep in the team. Feeling like if he is going to have to take the heat - from Rooneys, fans, media - he won't allow any discipline problems, and every time he sees any sign of it, he stomps on it like a cockroach. If a player is overweight, he is on his @ss endlessly, like Tom Coughlin. Making stupid mental errors? He immediately takes action to make the player focus better, or get benched. When MT came to Pgh, he was known as a real hard @ss, and he actually was TOO hard on the team, leading to a tired, worn out team down the stretch. He won't make that same mistake, but he also will no longer accept anything that resembles a lack of discipline. He won't make that same mistake again as he is getting very agitated hearing about the lack of discipline of last season. The entire team will reflect the new drive for focus.
- Ben, also just sick and tired of the criticism, comes in with a passion and drive like he never has had before. Not only is he weary of the negative banter, but he realizes it's time to start thinking about that next contract, whether it's in Pgh or not. If he doesn't start being known for clutch winning play, instead of game-losing picks, that next contract will be a shell of what it could be. Plus, last year now makes Ben know that the 2 Super Bowls are no longer enough to keep fans, coaches, etc. willing to let things slide. He can clearly see that he needs to offer quality play again and not rest on his laurels. In addition, last season has taught him that he needs to embrace Haley's system and not fight it. Get with the program. He comes in with renewed enthusiasm instead of offering immature jack-assness.
- If the Dwyer situation does not unfold as stated above, another scenario could easily occur with a rookie RB - and newly improved O line. The one position easiest for a player to produce as a rookie is running back. I could easily see a scenario where a Lacy, Ball or Bell come on and rock out. Overnight, Pgh could go from being a 26th rated rushing O, to a top 5 rushing team, just like that. With a legit rushing attack making safeties and LBs stay closer to the LOS, it gives Ben single coverage and opens up all kinds of passing lanes. With a rush no team had to respect, it makes it all the more difficult for the passing game.
- The defense, minus a few older guys with some added youth, is all the more motivated to excel. Troy stays fairly healthy, Worilds cashes in on his contract year and a rookie is also added to produce some splash plays. The D drops a little in its ranking, but creates more sacks and turnovers - in general adding some more wins to the record.
- Plex re-finds his football legs (He even made mention of that this week, as to how he was never really in football shape last season, and I thought it was apparent to the eye that he was not), Brown comes back with a passion and Sanders has a much better focus (without the bad apple Wallace chirping in his ear all season) and the WR unit outperforms last year's by a significant amount. With the perfect blend of youth and experience, these guys are motivated and stop the drops.
It could all happen. And if it does, they will, at the very least, be a play off team and maybe even a contender. It could easily all go the other way, but I believe there is a chance it does down like this.