Writing a sports column requires a bit of moxie, otherwise how could we set ourselves up to be mocked?
The Steelers will finish 10-6, win a mediocre-to-bad AFC North and underperform in the playoffs.
Sounds like a tune from the recent past. One of those songs that you hear and think, I actually hate this song even though I know all of the words.
I have seen some outlets predicting a Super Bowl for the Steelers – I hope they are right and I am wrong. The AFC does not feel intimidating. On the contrary, it seems like a bunch of mediocre teams and a few good teams, so the Steelers’ window of opportunity might be more open than this column implies.
But then there is this – the Steelers’ defense, the Le’Veon Bell (non) distraction, and the Steelers’ maddening ability to play down to their competition – a trademark of the Mike Tomlin era.
Since injuries are unpredictable and skew the data, we will assume relative health. Anything catastrophic changes everything, so . . .
Week 1 – Steelers open with a disturbingly pedestrian win over a better Cleveland Browns team, 24-16.
Week 2 – Is Bell back yet? Who knows, but the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 in the home opener to move to 2-0.
Week 3 – Is Bell back yet? Who cares? The Steelers lose on the road in Tampa Bay, 27-24. Now we care.
Week 4 – Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens 21-20 to move to 2-0 in the AFC North and 3-1 overall.
Week 5 – The Steelers are soundly beaten at home by Atlanta, 31-17, to fall to 3-2.
Week 6 – The Steelers go to their home away from Heinz Field, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, and beat the Bengals 38-24.
Week 8 – The Steelers avoid their annual post off-week malaise and beat the Browns at home, 31-21. The Steelers are solid in the division at 4-0, 5-2 overall.
Week 9 – Never really matters how good one team is or how bad the other is playing, the home team in the Steelers/Ravens rivalry usually finds a way to win, with a few exceptions. 2018 is not an exception year and the Ravens drop the Steelers in overtime, 20-17.
Week 10 – Carolina comes to town and the Steelers take advantage with a good rebound from the Ravens loss to win going away, 37-20.
Week 11 – The Steelers’ defensive warts are all exposed in a 34-24 loss in Jacksonville. 6-4 is not terrible, but not what Steelers fans expect.
Week 12 – The inconsistent Steelers rebound in Week 12 with a 26-17 win in Denver, the first of three straight games against AFC West teams.
Week 13 – A “big win” at Heinz Field against a decent AFC team – the Steelers beat the Los Angeles (doesn’t sound quite right) Chargers, 30-24. The Steelers can breathe again at 8-4.
Week 14 – Make that 8-5. A nauseating loss to a nauseating Jon Gruden in Oakland. Raiders 31, Steelers 24.
Week 15 – The annual Tom-Brady-to-Rob-Gronkowski fest at Heinz Field: New England 38, Pittsburgh 34.
Week 16 – The Steelers clinch a playoff berth and move to 9-6 with a somewhat surprising win in New Orleans, 33-27.
Week 17 – The Steelers win the AFC North and clinch the No. 3 seed in the AFC with a 24-21 win over the Bengals who announce, despite finishing 7-9 and out of the playoffs, Marvin Lewis will return for his 17th season and is named Coach Everlasting.
Wild Card Playoff Game – The Steelers host an also-ran and squeak by with a 23-17 win, or something like that.
Divisional Round Playoff Game – The Steelers go on the road to the No. 2 seed in the AFC and lose in OT, 24-21. Le’Veon Bell, whether he plays or not, takes off his Steelers uniform and burns it at midfield immediately following the loss. Coach Tomlin talks about, “men of honor,” and “the realities of life in the NFL,” in another exercise in saying quite a bit to say nothing at all.
- When did Trevor Williams become Greg Maddox? He has been pinpoint accurate and very efficient. Since allowing five earned runs in 2 1/3 bad innings against the Phillies on July 6, Williams has been the best pitcher in baseball – history – or so it seems. While the Pirates’ slide into obscurity has been predictable and difficult to watch, Williams has been magnificent.
- Le’Veon Bell lost me last year when he treated the Jacksonville playoff game like an August scrimmage against Shippensburg, and his holdout screams about how much he places himself above his team and teammates. It will take one 150-yard rushing, 10-reception, 2-touchdown game in a Steelers’ win for all to be forgiven, or will it? Steelers fans have to be tired of Bell’s song and dance. It is a bit hard to sympathize with a man in line to make more than $14 million to play football. I’ll try to garner some when I am working my second job as a mediocre sports columnist, but I doubt any will arise.
- Doesn’t matter that Pitt sleepwalked through a 33-7, season-opening win over Albany last Saturday, or that Penn State should have lost to Appalachian State, This Saturday’s game will more accurately reflect the state of the two programs. Pat Narduzzi is talking big about Pitt, and James Franklin talks big about everything, so the before and after of Round 3 of this four-round fight that absurdly ends with next year’s game should be fun.