Steel Sensations…Predicting the season

Maurkice Pouncey
Pittsburgh Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey (53) has a water battle with teammate Ramon Foster on the sideline during the fourth quarter NFL pre-season football action against the Carolina Panthers in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. The Panthers won 10-0. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

After two consecutive 8-8 seasons, the Steelers are more than ready to end their playoff drought and return to their rightful place amongst the NFL’s elite. On paper the team appears to be faster, stronger and ready to make the jump back into the postseason. However, on the field, in preseason play, they looked just as confused, just as old and just as inept as the past couple of seasons. You certainly don’t win games on paper but was the preseason a true indication of things to come?
Here’s how I believe each game should break down throughout the season, assuming everyone stays healthy of course.
The Steelers open up the season at home against the Cleveland Browns. All the talk of camp and early preseason was about Johnny Football and if he’d play this game. We now know that he won’t and it will be Brian Hoyer starting at QB for the Browns. Either way, the black and gold will come out ready to play and will get the win in the opener.
Four days later, the team travels to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. The Ravens will be without Ray Rice for this one but playing at home on Thursday Night Football gives the purple and black the slight edge over the black and gold. It will be a hard hitting close game but in the end; the Ravens will pick up the victory.
Ten days later the team will make another road trip to take on a very good Carolina Panther team. Going into the season, Cam Newton is a little banged up but if he’s healthy and playing like he did last season, he will torch the Steelers D.  I don’t believe the offense will be able to move the ball too effectively either and this one will be an easy win for the home team Panthers.
After two consecutive road trips, the team will return home to play another NFC South foe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Bucs aren’t a very good team and the Steelers should win this one going away to improve to 2-2 after the first four games of the season.
The second quarter of the season sees the team heading to Jacksonville against the lowly Jaguars. The heat could play a factor in the Jags favor but if the Steelers want to even consider themselves an improved team, they must win games like this against the bad teams. They should handle the Jags to grab their first road victory of 2014.
Following a win in Jacksonville the team travels to Cleveland for their sixth game. It’s entirely possible that Johnny Football will be the starter in Cleveland at that point and that will create a big buzz for sure. While Big Ben owns the state of Ohio and rarely loses there, the Browns are improved and have a real shot at winning this one at home. The Steelers have struggled in recent years on the road and it looks like that will continue as I have the Browns edging out the black and gold in this one.
The team will return home to play a far improved Texans team with a fierce defensive duo in Jadaveon Clowney and JJ Watt to contend with. The Texans could be a real threat to sack Big Ben 8 or 9 times and the offensive line may need to play their best game of the season in this one. I foresee a lot of shotgun plays and quick slants out of the offense in order to keep Big Ben upright. In the end the Steelers will win this game but it will not be as easy as many would think.
After taking down the Texans, the potent Indianapolis Colts will find their way to Pittsburgh. The black and gold cornerbacks will be tested early and often in this one and unfortunately I don’t think they’ll be able to keep pace with this high flying offense. The Colts will win the game and the Steelers will finish the first half of the season at 4-4.
The hated Ravens return to Heinz field the following week to open up the second half of the year. This second battle of the season against the Steelers top rival will be played in prime time, just like the first. Also like the first game, it will again be lower scoring, hard hitting and down to the wire but this time the Steelers will win the game.
After defeating the Ravens in a hard fought contest, the Steelers travel to New York to take on the Jets, where they gained their first win last season.  Geno Smith may be improved but he will not be able to do much against this defense.The Steelers match up well against teams that want to run the ball and limit the pass and they’ll take care of business in New York.
After their second straight win, a trip to Tennessee to take on the Titans on Monday Night Football is in order.  The Titans are not going to be very good and this is another must win game for Pittsburgh. I think Big Ben will toss the ball all over the field in this one and lead the Steelers to an easy victory.
The Steelers will then have their bye week and that additional time will be spent on preparing for the potent New Orleans Saints offense who visit town the following Sunday. This will be a high scoring affair and a battle between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. In the end, the Steelers secondary will get exposed again and the Saints will come out victorious, leaving the Steelers 7-5 after the first three quarters of the season.
The final four games of the year will be the difference between making the playoffs and remaining home for a third consecutive season.  It will start with a road game against division foe Cincinnati.  The Bengals will be in the thick of the AFC North hunt all season long and will need this game as much as Pittsburgh will.  As great as Big Ben has been in Ohio, he’ll receive his second loss in the state in 2014 and the Steelers will lose a close one.
The following week will have the Steelers make their final road trip of the year to Atlanta. The Falcons should be improved but the Steelers will come in hungry with their backs against the wall. A loss here would be back breaking and it won’t happen. The black and gold will rise to the occasion and come out of Atlanta with the win.
The Chiefs visit Pittsburgh the following week and I fully expect they’ll be several steps behind last years team and out of the running for any playoffs by this time of the season. The Steelers will win their second straight game to get them their 9th win of the season, guaranteeing a winning record.
The final game of the season pits the Steelers at home vs. the Bengals in what could be a winner take all game for the division. The Bengals already beat the Steelers earlier in the year according to my predictions so the black and gold will bring everything they have into this one. Big Ben and the offense will come up clutch and come out with the victory leaving the team 10-6 for the year.
10-6 is a record that could win the division title but if not, should have the team in a good spot for a wild card berth. Many things can happen along the way, players get hurt, fail to live up to expectations or even exceed expectations. The weather will factor into some games as well as potential suspensions etc. But if everything holds true, this black and gold team should improve over the past two season and return to a winning record and the postseason to boot.
Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association www.steelnationassociation.com– Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at mike@steelnationassociation.com.

Comments

From the Web