Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 Schedule: Top 5 Most Intriguing Opponents
One week later, the Black and Gold host the New York Jets and an all-too familiar face in Timothy Richard Tebow. Hopefully the team makes like the former Gator's initials, treating the affair as T.R.T. (total redemption time) in a win over Gang Green.
It's exciting to consider that those contests are just the tip of the iceberg! Headlines and story angles will be abundant, and that's only regarding the two games above, not the entire schedule.
With T.R.T. and the Broncos on the docket to open the season, Steelers Country will be in full vengeance mode. However, do either or these games (or both?) feature one of Pittsburgh's five most intriguing opponents of 2012?
After all, the Men of Steel will face a gauntlet of opponents that includes historical rivals (Dallas and Oakland), cross-state foes (Philadelphia), and arch-enemies from one of the toughest divisions in the NFL (Baltimore and Cincinnati).
With a schedule full of exhilarating match-ups, these are the top five teams that Steelers fans should be salivating to tee off against this season.
No. 5: Philadelphia Eagles
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The Steelers have struggled against Michael Vick in their previous meetings with the electrifying entertainer.
In 2002, Pittsburgh led 34-17 against the Falcons and Vick at Heinz Field before the "other" No. 7 rallied his team to a tie. Tommy Maddox described the final outcome, which ended on a hail mary catch to Plaxico Burress just inches short of the goal line in overtime, as "kissing your sister" (via ESPN).
Next, in 2006, the Black and Gold looked less "big and bold" and more "lax and old" when Vick torched them in the Georgia Dome. Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch combined for five touchdowns without an interception, but Vick's four scoring strikes were paramount in a 41-38 Falcons win in overtime.
In 2012, provided he is healthy, the Steelers are hoping to finally expose Vick's flaws opposed to making the super athlete look like the Superman.
After missing the playoffs last season, Pittsburgh's intrastate rivals will look to meet last year's expectations a season late. The Eagles have their most electrifying player, DeSean Jackson, comfortably signed, and they still boast a who's who gallery of huge NFL names.
Does anyone still remember Nnamdi Asomugha? The man who surrendered no passing touchdowns as a member of the 2010 Raiders was victimized for a few scores during a "down" year in Philly. Hopefully Big Ben and the Steelers' young, fast receivers can assist in maintaining this new trend.
When the Eagles come to town, you can count on a dynamic live experience, so anyone who can get tickets to Heinz Field on October 7th should do it.
Just be ready for a few obnoxious fans clad in green. Green with envy, of course...
No. 4: Dallas Cowboys
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Unfortunately, this isn't the Steelers' first visit to Cowboys Stadium; their first and only trip to date marks one of the sadder moments in franchise history.
On a much happier note, Pittsburgh has rallied from a 10-point deficit in each of its last two meetings against Dallas, and the Steelers hold a two-game winning streak in the series.
The blue-collar Steelers—even to this day—have always had an ill-regard for "America's Team" and the glitz, glamor and pageantry that surrounds Cowboys events.
The teams' histories, particularly against each other, mutually dynamic fan followings and traditionally loaded rosters have helped groom Steelers vs. Cowboys into the pinnacle interconference rivalry.
Any time Steelers Country sees stars emblazoned on silver helmets, the words "go time" come to mind.
Two of the game's more entertaining and unique quarterbacks will face off—free-willing gunslingers who refuse to give up on any play and want to make the big pass at every opportunity.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh fans, a key difference rests in the results for the two passers, as Tony Romo will have to struggle against his critics following another series of meltdowns in 2012. Conversely, despite a Super Bowl loss and rough ending to last season, Big Ben has more than proven his aplomb in key moments.
Hopefully the Texas-sized screen that the venue boasts will get littered with the Steelers celebrating another win.
No. 3: Denver Broncos
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Peyton's new palace hosts Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football... on Kickoff Weekend. Does the NFL know how to pique the interest of the casual fan, or what?
Is it a coincidence that a legendary quarterback, displaced from his original team and starting for a franchise owned by the last great signal-caller to lead that particular squad to greatness, gets his first start in prime time at home against the very same team that his new unit defeated in shocking fashion in the NFL playoffs mere months earlier?
The National Football League has its fingers right on the pulse of intrigue, so there is no doubt why this game ranks among the most interesting and captivating contests on Pittsburgh's schedule.
So many questions will be answered.
What is Manning's condition and what is his progress with Denver?
Are the Steelers fortunate to host him in Week 1, before full chemistry can develop between him and his receivers? (Let's not forget that this is a quarterback who ran a mass array of pre-game routes weekly—and thousands over time—with his former receiving peers.)
Will Ryan Clark's absence have an effect and can the Pittsburgh secondary rebound from last season's slaughtering?
How will the Steelers offense look with a rebuilt line and new coordinator? How will they hold up against great pass rushers such as Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller?
Will Denver continue to execute the running game as a distinct part of the offensive game plan, or will they give the reins to Manning?
And, last but certainly not least, will the Black and Gold exact a measure of revenge to start the 2012 season at 1-0?
The media will have a field day on opening weekend. This is a dream game for the league and all fans.
No. 2: New York Giants
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The pregame hysteria may be louder prior to the Broncos game and against "Manning Senior," but the more intriguing game for the intuitive Steelers fan comes against Big Blue and "Manning Junior." Let's just call this contest exactly what it is: the midseason measuring stick.
While many would expect the Steelers' division rivals to rank in the top two spots of the countdown, the list is comprised of the most intriguing games, not the most important. Otherwise, the gallery would be as simple as the Browns, Bengals and Ravens.
On the road against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Steelers will encounter a team that did all of the things they had hoped to do during the playoffs.
Eli Manning continued his solid play and career year, avoiding turnovers and playing at his best on third down. The defensive front rebounded from an inconsistency-plagued campaign to rediscover itself in the playoffs. The secondary stepped up, particularly illustrated by the disparity in the performance during two contests against the Packers in the regular season and playoffs.
The Giants took advantage of key turnovers, ran the ball when they needed to, made key plays at the most important moments (including in the red zone), improved in the defensive backfield and got pressure in opposing backfields.
Does that sound like the modus operandi of another aspiring championship team?
And, unlike the Steelers last season, New York got that little sliver of luck (well, er, big sliver...) when it was needed.
Altogether, if Big Blue handles its business with a campaign worthy of a defending champion, Pittsburgh will be able to use its November 4th contest as a gauge for where it is relative to its goals.
After all, the Steelers feature a slew of new talent (particularly along the lines) and a new offensive coordinator. If they can come together and defeat the champs, it could be the springboard for "No. 7," and I don't mean Ben Roethlisberger!
Adding to the intrigue of the game is the rematch between draft class peers Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, who are 1-1 against each other.
Did somebody say rubber match?
No. 1: Baltimore Ravens
They're the most important opponent on the schedule, and with a rivalry so fierce, getting even with Baltimore is the most intriguing element of 2012.
In a league that seems to tilt more and more annually toward an aerial showdown, full of offensive fireworks and broken records (sorry, Dan), the NFL's greatest modern rivalry may be the closest representation of its old-school product.
Hugs at midfield at emoticons hold little place in this "traditional," hard-hitting feud between two teams far more similar than they'd ever care to admit.
Granted, the Black and Gold will get to face teams in 2012 that they rarely encounter, namely those from the NFC East. Despite the novelty of a few opponents, the Ravens and Steelers will continue to be each other's litmus test and most intriguing opponent so long as the essence of their physical rivalry remains intact and they're both in the running for that "sticky Lombardi" Trophy.
Adding to the intensity leading up to the new season between the two rivals is the upsetting fact that the smug John Harbaugh, milquetoast Joe Flacco and loudmouth Ray Lewis (feel any bias seeping through?) swept the series in 2011, putting Pittsburgh in a position to say the same thing as the Ravens were heading into last season:
"We owe them one."
Let's not forget that the modern day "Purple People Eaters" have won two consecutive regular-season games in the Steel City, both on last-second touchdown passes from Joe Flacco.
Having an offseason to stew on the season-opening blowout and last-second defeat at Heinz Field should translate to a raucous evening on November 18th.
At that point, Steelers fans will get more than their share of the team that puts the letters c-h-a-r into arch-rivals. Playing the Ravens twice in three weeks, Steelers Country will be quickly reminded of the fire that burns bird feathers!
And the Best of the Rest...
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With so many great contests ahead, most of you surely have at least one game you would have preferred to have seen on the list.
Only one thing is truly certain: Every NFL season is filled with a slew of surprises. To demonstrate, how many would have put last year's game in San Francisco on their list prior to the start of the season?
As such, any game has the potential to be a key contest featuring the most intriguing of opponents. The previous ranking is based on the hype and hysteria of the here and now. One thing we can all count on is change.
Beyond the teams already listed, the Steelers rivalry with the Cincinnati Bengals will be rekindled, a truism of every NFL season. The Bengals are a young team on the rise, but will they be able to repeat as playoff qualifiers?
As mentioned, the New York Jets—complete with their bombastic head coach and maligned quarterback situation—make the trip to the Steel City in Week 2. What new headlines will Gang Green have purposely presented by then? And, just how many snaps will the Steelers defense take against Tim Tebow?
Ending a trio of scintillating matches to start the season, a trip to the "Black Hole" of Oakland should reunite the Steelers against quarterback Carson Palmer. Will there be obvious progress to report for the Silver and Black, post-Al Davis?
Todd Haley gets to show off his new offense against his old team, the Kansas City Chiefs, in prime time. Another night cap sees the Steelers headed to the Music City to face Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans.
Lastly, no matter their recent struggles or the tilted results of a lopsided series, battles against the Cleveland Browns are always a matter of pride. The Steelers need to pay particular attention to their November 25th match with Cleveland. After all, it is sandwiched between two games against the Ravens.
Has there ever been a better trap game setup?
Get ready for a season chock-full of great NFL action, Steelers fans.
The 2012 Steelers season will hopefully see a return to glory for the NFL's leader in Super Bowl victories.
Can you say, "Seven Heaven?"