By Jeremy Hritz
Right now, it still hurts for Steelers fans. Two of our most hated opponents will battle for the AFC crown that we proudly wore last year. And in the NFC, we have to watch the other hated Harbaugh and the Eli Manning-led New York Giants. While Sunday will no doubt be agonizing as it reminds us of what could have been, it is time to move on. And what better way to do so than taking a closer look at the 2012-2013 Steelers\' opponents.
Opponents’ 2011 Records: 103-105 (.495)
2011 Playoff Opponents on 2012 Schedule: 4 - Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, New York Giants
Home: Baltimore (12-4), Cleveland (4-12), Cincinnati (9-7)
Away: Baltimore (12-4), Cleveland (4-12), Cincinnati (9-7)
Quick Take: Since 2002, aside from the Steelers, no AFC North team has won consecutive division championships. This is good news for the Steelers and Bengals, bad news for the Ravens (sorry Cleveland). The Bengals will more than likely be improved in 2012 with an offseason for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to develop, not to mention two first round draft picks. The Ravens will continue to be the primary threat to the Steelers, but another season sweep of the Steelers is unlikely. The competition, though intense in 2011, will be even greater in the AFC North next year and will make for some incredible December football.
The Highlight: Getting revenge against Baltimore for the season sweep.
Most Prime Time Potential: Both matchups against Baltimore.
AFC West Games
Home: Kansas City (7-9), San Diego (8-8)
Away: Denver (8-8), Oakland (8-8)
Quick Take: Not a very strong division in 2011, so it’s hard to know what to expect from the AFC West next year. Too many questions face the teams in this division: who will quarterback Kansas City, and will Romeo Crennel have a Browns-like effect on the team? Will Phillip Rivers return to form and lead the Chargers back to the playoffs? Will Tim Tebow develop into a more accurate passer? And will Oakland’s new coach and new GM be able to lead them to the playoffs? Playing the West could be a blessing or a curse for the Steelers depending on the progress these teams make in the offseason. What is good is that San Diego has to travel to the Burgh; the bad, we have to travel to Oakland, and Ryan Clark will again have to sit out another game.
The Highlights: Rivers vs. Roethlisberger; showing Broncos’ fans that Tebow really is Tebow (for real this time!).
Most Prime Time Potential: San Diego, Denver.
NFC East Games:
Home: Philadelphia (8-8), Washington (5-11)
Away: Dallas (8-8), New York Giants (9-7)
Quick Take: Ouch. This is going to be one tough division in 2012. While there really wasn’t any dominating team in the NFC East this year, with the way that Philadelphia played at the end of the season, and with the run that the Giants are currently making, the East teams in 2012 are going to be a handful. While the Redskins are not frightening with Rex Grossman, the Cowboys are talented and will have some coaching consistency with Jason Garrett starting his second full year. Big-name players like Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Desean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, DeMarcus Ware, and Victor Cruz will make for some entertaining and challenging match-ups next year.
The Highlights: Tradition in the Steelers vs. the Cowboys; a Pennsylvania showdown against the Eagles; and draft classmates in Eli vs. Big Ben.
Most Prime Time Potential: Take your pick, Dallas, Philadelphia, or New York.
2nd-Place Schedule AFC Games:
Home: New York Jets (8-8)
Away: Tennessee (9-7)
Quick Take: The Jets and the Titans are our second place AFC opponents next year. There are many questions revolving around the Jets for next season with all of the locker-room turmoil that has surfaced in the media and the less-than-effective play of Mark Sanchez. It is difficult to envision them improving on their 2011 record (unless they somehow finagle getting Peyton Manning), and easier to picture another 8-8 or worse season. Mike Munchak is a solid coach for the Titans who achieved a 9-7 season with average quarterback play and an underachieving running game. In his second year, look for Munchak to turn the team over to Jake Locker full time and as a result, one or two more wins. Tennessee could prove to be quite the task away from Heinz Field in 2012.
The Highlights: A rematch of the 2010 AFC Championship Game with the Jets.
Most Prime Time Potential: See above.
Overall, the 2012 opponents of the Pittsburgh Steelers make for some exciting football games against some big-time players and big-time teams. Without question, the 2012 opponents will present much more of a challenge, making it even more important that the Steelers address the glaring needs on the offensive line. So if watching the championship games on Sunday makes you wish for a redo of the Denver game, just think ahead to the many great matchups that we will all get to enjoy come September.