By Jeremy Hritz
Last year, I took the time to work through the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers schedule to make an early prediction of the success of the team. I worked through multiple iterations of this before finishing my final season prediction in which I forecasted that the Steelers would end up 11-5, beating the Baltimore Ravens twice, and winning the AFC North. While they had the potential to do that, the injuries, especially at crucial times, combined with the lack of an effective running game and a pass rush, resulted in an overwhelmingly disappointing 8-8 record that many national pundits are predicting will carry over into 2013.
With a better grasp of the offense next season, there should be better execution, which hopefully results in more points scored. With the injection of youth at different positions on defense, there should be an improvement in the ability to get to the quarterback, and with a healthy offensive line replete with first and second round picks, Ben Roethlisberger should get the protection he needs to stay healthy and make plays.
That is the ideal situation.
The reality is that there are going to be injuries, players are going to underperform, and Roethlisberger is going to take sacks. Regardless, the Steelers have the make-up necessary to be a championship team.
With that said, here is an early look at how the Steelers season could play out in 2013.
Sun., Sept. 8 TENNESSEE 1:00 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
The Steelers are money in home openers, winning their last ten, and it shouldn’t be any different against Tennessee in the upcoming season. There is still instability at the quarterback position, and outside of CJ2K, Kenny Britt is their most explosive offensive weapon. While Britt did abuse Ike Taylor last season and the Steelers blew the game, we shouldn’t expect a repeat of that in 2013. The Steelers will be motivated to show that they are primed for a return to the playoffs.
PREDICTION: WIN (1-0)
Mon., Sept. 16 at Cincinnati 8:40 p.m. (ESPN/WTAE-TV)
And here begin the evening games that we all love so much. Last season, the Steelers split with the Bengals, winning in Cincinnati, and losing in Pittsburgh in a critical game that could have resulted in a playoff berth. The Bengals appear to have added several key pieces to improve what was already a solid team, including James Harrison, who undoubtedly is looking forward to the national stage against his old team. With high expectations for the Bengals on Monday night, they will be inspired to show that they are for real, and a win for the Steelers here, while realistic, will be difficult. Bengals win a close one.
PREDICITON: LOSS (1-1)
Sun., Sept. 22 CHICAGO 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI-TV)
The Steelers return home for a Sunday night game against Jay Cutler and the Bears to what should be a riled up Heinz Field crowd. The Bears will be under new leadership with their new head coach in Marc Trestman, who is coming from the CFL. I’m sure the Montreal Alouettes played some fierce teams in Canada, but nothing comparable to the Steelers. The Bears have always been inconsistent, and should only become more so under their new coach.
PREDICTION: WIN (2-1)
Sun., Sept. 29 at Minnesota, Wembley Stadium, London 1:00 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Essentially a game at a neutral site, even though it is being called an away game. There will be no home field advantage in this contest, and the success of the Steelers will depend on whether or not they can slow down Adrian Peterson. Not too many teams can, so the Steelers will have to make sure that they can match the production and points with their own weapons. Christian Ponder doesn’t scare anybody, and if they can force the Vikings into a situation where he has to make some clutch throws, it will play into the hand of the Steelers. I can see Peterson going off for a big game here, but I’ll take Roethlisberger over Ponder here.
PREDICTION: WIN (3-1)
Sun., Oct. 13 at New York Jets 1:00 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Rested and ready for the remainder of the season after the bye week, the Steelers travel to New York to take on the circus that is the New York Jets. With no true improvements to the team this offseason, and with the prospects of Mark Sanchez as the starter once again, the Steelers will be in an excellent position here to get another win. And if Geno Smith is the starter, even better, as the Steelers success against rookie quarterbacks is well documented. No offensive firepower and a porous defense make this game one of the most favorable matchups for the Steelers in 2013.
PREDICTION: WIN (4-1)
Sun., Oct. 20 BALTIMORE 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
The Ravens lost several key players this offseason, but they have also done a nice job in bringing in guys that should help to mitigate the departures. Baltimore will enter the 2013 season with the confidence that they can win big games, and that Joe Flacco can play at a high level. Their defense wasn’t great last season with the old men in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, so the injection of some youth may in fact improve this unit. Larry Foote recently said that the Steelers had a bad taste in their mouths that the Ravens won the Super Bowl, and that motivation will carry them in this game. However, as seems to be the trend in these matchups, each team scores a win. I don’t see the Steelers winning on Thanksgiving Night in Baltimore, so their win will come in Pittsburgh this season.
PREDICTION: WIN (5-1)
Sun., Oct. 27 at Oakland 4:05 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
The Steelers should have beat the Raiders last season, and what seems to be a trend, will have revenge on their minds in Oakland in 2013. The only issue with this game is that the team has to travel to Oakland, a place where they have historically struggled. With Terrell Pryor expected to be the starter for the Raiders, the quarterback play will more than likely be erratic. It won’t matter though, because as the Steelers have demonstrated, the Raiders, no matter how bad they are, always seem to find a way to beat them. The Steelers will drop this game, and the sky will be falling all throughout the city of Pittsburgh.
PREDICTION: LOSS (5-2)
Sun., Nov. 3 at New England 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
The last time the Steelers played the Patriots in Pittsburgh, they earned an exciting victory on their way to a 12-4 season. For the duration of that game, they harassed Tom Brady, and essentially shut him down. Prior to that game, the Patriots owned the Steelers, and dominated whenever the two teams matched up. Playing in Foxborough will be difficult, and Ryan Clark’s comments this offseason will certainly be revisited in the days leading up to the game. With Tom Brady at the helm, it won’t end well for the Steelers as they drop their second game in a row.
PREDICTION: LOSS (5-3)
Sun., Nov. 10 BUFFALO 1:00 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
The Steelers return home for their November matchup against the Bills, whose options at quarterback are Kevin Kolb and rookie EJ Manuel. The expectations are always high for the Bills, and every year they are expected to make a return to their glory days. However, those expectations always die early. Expect status quo in 2013. The Steelers and their fans would love nothing more than for Kolb or Manuel to line up at quarterback.
PREDICTION: WIN (6-3)
Sun., Nov. 17 DETROIT 1:00 p.m. (FOX/WPGH-TG)
Another home game for the Steelers. The Matt Stafford/Calvin Johnson connections could potentially give the Steelers fits, and Taylor will undoubtedly be expected to be Johnson’s shadow. Will he be able to slow him down? That remains to be seen. The Lions have some players that can bring the pressure on defense with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and newly added Ezekiel Ansah. Hopefully, the Steelers offensive line has gelled by this point and is ready for what the Lions will present. I’m still not sold on Jim Schwartz and his coaching staff, and I am forecasting another underwhelming season for the Lions in 2013.
PREDICTION: WIN (7-3)
Sun., Nov. 24 at Cleveland 1:00 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
The Browns will continue to improve, and their defense should be rounding into form in 2013. However, there are too many questions on the offensive side of the football for them to be considered contenders. Outside of Trent Richardson, they are devoid of splash players, and there is still cloudiness as to who will be the starting quarterback. Another coaching change for the Browns and no continuity means another losing season. There will be no repeat of the eight turnover performance by the Steelers in Cleveland in 2013.
PREDICTION: WIN (8-3)
Thurs., Nov. 28 at Baltimore 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI-TV)
The Steelers got shafted with this game. As if playing the Ravens isn’t difficult enough, playing them on Thanksgiving Night in Baltimore is a daunting task. If the Steelers win this one, they will have truly rebounded from 2012. However right now, I just don’t see it happening.
PREDICTION: LOSS (8-4)
Sun., Dec. 8 MIAMI 1:00 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
What an intriguing story line with the return of the original one-tricker, Mike Wallace. While Wallace will have something to prove in his return, so will the Steelers and their fans (It’s invigorating just to imagine the cascade of boos when his name is announced). This game will more than likely have some serious playoff implications for the Steelers, so expect them to be ready for this game. While Ryan Tannehill will be improved, he won’t be ready for the Steelers at Heinz Field in December, even if he does have Wallace.
PREDICTION: WIN (9-4)
Sun., Dec. 15 CINCINNATI 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI-TV)
As I said earlier, I expect the Steelers to split with both the Ravens and the Bengals, and on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will get their victory in this series, taking another step closer to getting back into the playoffs.
PREDICTION: WIN (10-4)
Sun., Dec. 22 at Green Bay 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Sure, the Steelers would like to get revenge on the Packers for their Super Bowl loss in Dallas by getting a win in Lambeau, but it’s not going to happen. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, and the home field advantage of the Packers is historical. There aren’t too many teams that are able to contain the Packers passing game, and it will present the Steelers defense with several problems. Being an NFC game, a loss here should not damage the Steelers playoff hopes.
PREDICTION: LOSS (10-5)
Sun., Dec. 29 CLEVELAND 1:00 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
This game may have big implications for the Steelers in regards to winning the AFC North, or it could be a meaningless contest should their playoff seeding already be determined. Either way, the Steelers won’t drop this contest in Pittsburgh, even if they are playing their back-ups.
PREDICTION: WIN (11-5)
The Steelers are good enough to finish 11-5 in 2013, and it will all depend on the health of their key players. This will be a motivated team, driven to prove that 2012 was a fluke.
Counting down the days to September 8th.