The Bucs' and Steelers are quite similar. Last season, the Buccaneers' defense finished 5th in defensive value above average while the Steelers finished 5th in total defense. Despite great defenses, both teams missed the playoffs.
The reasons? The Steelers offense ranked 13th (out of 32) in total offense while Tampa paced the NFL with 41 turnovers. The quarterbacks for Pittsburgh and Tampa? Mason Rudolph and Jameis Winston respectively.
Pittsburgh Steelers with Mason Rudolph, 2019
Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger has spent the entirety of his, now, 17 year career in Pittsburgh. However, the two-time Super Bowl champion went down with a season-ending elbow in Week 2, forcing Rudolph into the lineup.
The team would go on to start 0-3 and finish the season 8-8, a credit to the coaching brilliance of Mike Tomlin due not just to the mediocre quarterbacking from Rudolph (1,765 passing yards, 13 TD, 9 INT) but also the disastrous play of Devlin "Duck" Hodges (1,063 yards, 5 TD, 8 INT).
While the addition of Pro Bowl defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and ascension of second-year linebacker T.J. Watt provided excitement, the offense just couldn't score enough points as the Steelers lost five games by one possession.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Jameis Winston, 2019
Meanwhile in Florida, the Buccaneers finished 2019 with a young, exciting defense, two Pro Bowlers at wide receiver, and the league's leading passer. However, while Jameis Winston was leading the league in passing yards (5,109 yards), and was second in touchdown passes (32), he was etching himself in the record books for his poor decisions.
Winston's 30 interceptions thrown were the 6th most in a season all-time, seven additional potential picks were dropped, and he lost another fumble. His poor decisions more than negated a defensive performance in which the unit was the best against the run and 8th in getting after the quarterback (2.9 sacks per game). Despite forcing 28 turnovers, Tampa finished the season with a -13 turnover margin and finished 7-9.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the scripts for both teams have flipped.
Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger, 2020
Ben Roethlisberger has returned and has thrown for 1,446 yards and 13 scores through Week 6, leading the league's 6th-highest scoring offense.
At 6-0, the Steelers not only sit atop the AFC North but are the lone unbeaten team remaining in the NFL as they head into a divisional showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.
Roethlisberger's return has allowed the offense to compliment a defense led by Watt, Fitzpatrick, and veteran corner Joe Haden that paces the league in total defense, is second-best against the run, and 7th in points allowed. Watt's 5.5 sacks are the second-most in the AFC (fourth overall). Moreover, Pittsburgh has emerged as the biggest threat to the Kansas City Chiefs' AFC reign.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Tom Brady, 2020
Down south, the Buccaneers have stormed to the top of the NFC South after an opening day loss to the New Orleans Saints, having gone 5-1 since.
Tom Brady has been nearly impeccable, amassing 1910 passing yards (6th in the NFL), and posting a league-best 15:1 TD-INT ratio since Week 3. His 18 touchdown passes trails only Russell Wilson and his 102.7 rating is 10th.
As for the Buccaneers as a whole, the team is 3rd in the league in scoring, 3rd in total defense, 1st in rushing defense, and 6th in scoring defense. Perhaps the biggest difference between the Brady and Winston-led forms of Tampa Bay is the turnover differential.
A season after losing that battle, the Bucs are +5 in that department, registering nine interceptions (three by corner Carlton Davis) and three additional fumble recoveries. Even better, the Buccaneers now sit only a half-game out of first place in the NFC.