Final Game-by-Game Predictions for the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 Season
With the 2012 NFL regular season about to unfold in all of its grandeur, the time has come for final predictions on how each game will unfold. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a very interesting schedule.
Here’s a look at how each of those games might unfold and what the final record this year might look like.
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Week 1: Pittsburgh at Denver
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The Steelers open up their regular slate where their 2011 playoffs ended: in Denver against the Broncos. This isn’t the same Broncos team that beat them in the wild card round of the playoffs last year, however.
These Broncos are quarterbacked by Peyton Manning instead of Tim Tebow. This game will be very interesting since it will be the first game action for Peyton Manning in over a year. He’s been OK during the preseason and looks strong, but he’ll be facing a stiff pass-rush.
The Steelers will be without Ryan Clark, who cannot play in the altitude of Denver, but should be able to maintain a stiff pass-rush against the Broncos.
Offensively, I’d expect the Steelers to rely on the running game first and to try and neutralize a nice pass rush with it. Roethlisberger will get his chances, however, and should make the most of the team’s speed against an aging secondary.
Week 2: Pittsburgh vs. New York Jets
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Mark Sanchez has never had great success against the Steelers, and Ryan’s team is fielding an offense that lacks a ton of speed and explosiveness. Tim Tebow is available in a wildcat package, but he hasn’t shown his knack this preseason.
The Jets will likely have some trouble with the Pittsburgh rushing attack, and I’m not sure the Jets defensive backs can stand up to Ben Roethlisberger’s assault with Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.
Prediction: Victory by blowout
Week 3: Pittsburgh at Oakland
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The Steelers will head to the West Coast to face the Oakland Raiders before their bye week. That’s a fortuitous scheduling victory since the trip out west won’t cause the team to fly back for a game the following week.
The Raiders have a new look thanks to the presence, for the first time, of a true general manager and also a new head coach. The post-Al Davis years have finally come for a long-suffering franchise.
The Raiders, however, are saddled with turnover-prone Carson Palmer at quarterback. They also have some deficiencies on defense and a suspect rushing attack that is without Michael Bush and with an injury-prone Darren McFadden.
Week 5: Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia
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The Steelers return from a bye week that will likely be much needed in time to face the Eagles in Pittsburgh. The two teams faced off in the preseason, a Philadelphia victory in the first week.
This time around, things could be different. There are no guarantees on Michael Vick’s health, and he took a pounding in limited preseason action. The Steelers’ front seven will make it hard on the offensive line to protect him, and Vick has a penchant for taking hits as well.
Offensively, the Steelers will face a pass-rush that gave them a lot of trouble in the first week. This game, they would be wise to rely on the rushing attack early to take the blitz off and then use play action to test the secondary.
Prediction: Victory in overtime
Week 6: Pittsburgh at Tennessee
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The Steelers next travel to play the Titans. Since the Titans moved to the new AFC South a decade ago, the two teams have taken turns dominating each other. Lately, the Steelers have had the upper hand.
The Titans are breaking in a young quarterback, but they do have running back Chris Johnson. Johnson has had limited success against the Steelers, and I would look for the team to use Steve McLendon regularly at the nose tackle spot to keep the gaps closed.
Offensively, the Titans have a weakened secretary, and I would expect Ben Roethlisberger to test them often. I’d also expect to see screen passes used here to test the pursuit abilities of the Titans’ front seven.
Week 7: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
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The Steelers don’t usually lose division games, but these aren’t the Bengals we’ve been used to seeing for most of the last two decades. They are younger, faster, stronger and more disciplined.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green did good work last year against the Steelers, and the Bengals seem to have improved at receiver and at running back during the offseason. I’d expect the Steelers to have their first big defensive test since Week 1 here.
The Bengals have a good defense when healthy, and we can’t predict injuries at this point. If the Steelers face a healthy defense, they’ll have to be aware of the pass-rush, particularly up the middle. Screen passes may work better than deep ones given the talent in the secondary.
Prediction: Loss in overtime
Week 8: Pittsburgh vs. Washington
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The Steelers saw rookie Andrew Luck in the second game of the preseason. They’ll see fellow rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III at Heinz Field in Week 8.
How the Redskins’ franchise passer will perform as a rookie is anyone’s guess right now, but he could continue the trend (along with Luck) of successful rookie quarterbacks that began with Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
The Redskins boast a dangerous rushing attack that is similar in style to what the Steelers are likely to do. I would expect a healthy dose of it as Mike Shanahan tries to protect Griffin from the pass-rush. When he does throw, expect quick, short passes.
Offensively, Pittsburgh will be facing a stout front seven and a relatively weak back four. I’d expect the Steelers to open things up with some work to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown before they go ground.
Week 9: Pittsburgh at New York Giants
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The Steelers will face the defending champions in MetLife Stadium as the season reaches its midpoint. At this point, I’ve predicted a very strong season for the Steelers.
This is their toughest non-divisional game in my opinion. Eli Manning has different weapons, but still has plenty of talent around him. I’d expect them to test the Steelers pass defense by spreading them out.
Offensively, the Steelers will contend with another tough defensive front. They may get lucky if the Giants secondary is still banged up or lacking in improvement from 2011, but they’ll have to have time to throw the ball.
Week 10: Pittsburgh vs. Kansas City
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To rebound from what I think will be a loss in New York, the Steelers will come home to face the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs took the Steelers to the wire last year with a backup quarterback and a banged up offense.
The Steelers hopefully have learned a lesson on taking teams seriously. I don’t have the Chiefs contending this season, but they’ll be better than they were last year. This will be Todd Haley’s first game against his former team.
The Steelers would do well to pass on the Chiefs and work their secondary. I’d also like to see them get the screens going here and use the rushing attack to bolt down a victory.
Defensively, the Steelers will get a quarterback with limited mobility in Matt Cassel but a tough rushing attack. If they can shut down the run, they’ll win the game.
Week 11: Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore
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Last year, the Steelers lost both contests to the Ravens. I don’t think we’ll see another blowout like we saw in Week 1 of 2011 again for quite some time. Regardless of who wins, these games traditionally are very, very close.
The Steelers, at this point in the year, will be locked in a fierce three-way division battle. They already have lost one to the Bengals in this prediction, and they’ll be fired up for revenge on the Ravens for last season.
Offensively, the Ravens have improved. Their weakness may be along the line, where they are aging and a little beat up at this point. Joe Flacco may get a good test against the Pittsburgh pass rush.
The Steelers offense will test the young secondary by spreading things out with all four of their receivers and the speed out of the backfield from Chris Rainey. They can use Jonathan Dwyer to hammer the Ravens on the ground if they can get a lead too.
Prediction: Victory in overtime
Week 12: Pittsburgh at Cleveland
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After getting a tough test against the Ravens, the Steelers get to head to Cleveland to face the Browns. The AFC North’s traditional doormat, the Browns have added talent through the draft but once again look very weak in a strong division.
There are over a dozen rookies on this roster and many of them are expected to play particularly important roles. This will be Pittsburgh’s second meeting with a rookie quarterback (Brandon Weeden) in 2012.
These two teams have kept things interesting in recent contests, but I would expect that the Steelers will be looking to win convincingly before turning around and facing the Ravens again. I’d expect a heavy dose of the passing game and a fierce pass-rush effort.
Week 13: Pittsburgh at Baltimore
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The Steelers will stay on the road to face the Ravens again. This begins a tough stretch run for Pittsburgh, and every game will be tough. Getting the Ravens out of the way in a three-week period is both good and bad.
The Steelers will once again look to test the offensive line of Baltimore and push Joe Flacco to get rid of the ball fast. The good news is that the Steelers should have the players in the secondary to contend with Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin.
Offensively, the Steelers will have struggles with the front seven. Ben Roethlisberger is likely to be playing with some sort of minor ailment at this point. The effectiveness of the offensive line, which may have rookie David DeCastro back at this point, will be of prime importance.
Prediction: Loss in overtime
Week 14: Pittsburgh vs. San Diego
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Philip Rivers represents one of the best tests for this defensive backfield in 2012. The question is whether or not he has the weapons or support from the running game to be dangerous the way he was for many years.
On past history, this game looks tough, but the Chargers don’t impress me much right now. If their young players on offense blossom, they could be very tough. That’s hard to project, but I’ll say it ends up somewhere in the middle.
Week 15: Pittsburgh at Dallas
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After coming home for one week, the Steelers will head out again to face their rivals from the 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are another interesting team that might have a coach on the hot seat in 2012.
Tony Romo always seems to be working with a banged-up backfield and an enigmatic bunch of receivers. They’ve suffered a rash of injuries during the preseason, and that could carry over into the regular games. If it does, this could be a long season for the Blue Star Boys.
The Steelers will work on that Dallas secondary and attempt to get Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown on deep balls. The running game will have to work against a good front, but they should find some success if the Steelers can stretch the field.
Week 16: Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
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I have predicted the Bengals to beat the Steelers in Cincinnati during their first contest of the season. The second one won’t be any easier, and I expect the teams to be battling for the top spot in the AFC North along with the Ravens.
I will say that this game could go differently. The Steelers always play better in front of their own fans and in their own stadium. Pittsburgh will want to establish the run game as much as possible early to draw in the coverage and then use the deep ball to back them off before doing it again.
The Bengals are still going to test the Steelers deep, but by this point, guys like Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown and Keenan Lewis will have gained more valuable experience by the second-to-last game. They should do better this time.
Prediction: Close victory
Week 17: Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland
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As has become part of the NFL system, the Steelers finish with a division game. This year, they go against the Browns in Pittsburgh. The Browns will likely be playing for next season. The Steelers should be in the playoff picture in some way.
This should be a game where we once again see backups coming in to relieve starters before the playoffs. The Steelers should have a good enough record to contend for a bye week, but don’t count out a scenario like last year where a 12-4 team was a wild card.
The running game will be huge, as the weather will probably be rough by this point in the year. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman should get a lot of touches, and the Steelers will likely use screens to move the ball on the outside.
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Here’s a summary of the full season prediction I’ve just made:
Overall Record: 12-4
1. Loss at Denver (0-1)
2. Win vs. New York Jets (1-1)
3. Win at Oakland (2-1)
5. Win vs. Philadelphia (3-1)
6. Win at Tennessee (4-1)
7. Loss at Cincinnati (4-2)
8. Win vs. Washington (5-2)
9. Loss at New York Giants (5-3)
10. Win vs. Kansas City (6-3)
11. Win vs. Baltimore (7-3)
12. Win at Cleveland (8-3)
13. Loss at Baltimore (8-4)
14. Win vs. San Diego (9-4)
15. Win at Dallas (10-4)
16. Win vs. Cincinnati (11-4)
17. Win vs. Cleveland (12-4)
This prediction should be close to the mark as long as the Steelers stay healthy and don’t suffer any surprises in regards to performance. It matches last year’s record and follows a similar path.
The Steelers should once again make the playoffs at 12-4 and will be in the thick of a division race with Baltimore and Cincinnati. They have a better schedule than those two teams, so it’s reasonable to think they could regain their position atop the North.
If the Steelers do win their division, the 12-4 record should put them in place for one of the top three playoff spots. If they do not, I would expect them to be a wild-card team.