Eight months and one day after the infamous Tebow-to-Thomas connection, the Pittsburgh Steelers return to Denver Sunday night to open the 2012 season.
For Steelers fans, game time is already here because it's time to play the win-loss game. We look at every game on the Steelers' schedule and predict a win or a loss.
It's like Scrabble, but the only letters are "W" and "L." So take that Steelers schedule off the fridge and play along.
Week 1: at Denver, Sept. 9, 8:20 p.m.
It's up in the air how much Mike Wallace will play in the mile-high air with just a week of practice under his belt. His conditioning might be questionable. James Harrison might not be his old self,either with his limited practice time. We saw how much the Steelers missed Ryan Clark in the playoff loss at Denver.
Now it will be Peyton Manning, and not Tim Tebow, taking a crack at that secondary. We don't know how effective Manning will be at 36 coming off all those neck surgeries, but he'll debut with his new team on the Sunday Night Football stage.
The setting will be too much for the Steelers to overcome. At least this defeat won't be nearly as costly as the one in Denver eight months ago. L, 28-21 (0-1)
Week 2: New York Jets, Sept. 16, 4:25 p.m.
The Steelers haven't started a season 0-2 since 2002, and it won't happen this year. Not only will the Steelers be playing with a sense of urgency after their season-opening loss, but they'll be playing their home opener in front of fans who will make the hostile environment even more hostile for Tebow, regardless of how much he plays. The Jets have an elite defense, but a putrid offense could make it a long year for them. W, 20-3 (1-1)
Week 3: at Oakland, Sept. 23, 4:25 p.m.
As Darren McFadden goes, so go the Raiders. The Steelers' suspect run defense is a little concerning. After leading the league in 2010, the Steelers slipped to No. 8 in run defense last season, giving up nearly 100 yards per game, according to NFL.com. No matter how big a day McFadden has, however, Ben Roethlisberger can bail out the Steelers' defense by picking apart the Raiders' defense. W, 38-17 (2-1)
Week 4: Bye
Week 5: Philadelphia, Oct. 7, 1 p.m.
The "Dream Team" finally jelled last season, but it was too late. The Eagles closed with four straight wins to finish 8-8. Look for them to pick up on that momentum and win the NFC East this season. Michael Vick has taken the Steelers to overtime in his only two games against them, beating them once and tying them once.
That was before jail, though. The Eagles will be tough, but the Steelers will handle them because they'll be at home. W, 16-10 (3-1)
Week 6: at Tennessee, Oct. 11, 8:20 p.m.
This will be a double whammy for the Steelers. Strange things happen to them on Thursday nights, and strange things happen to them in Tennessee. This is the place where the Steelers lost a playoff game after master thespian Joe Nedney drew a penalty flag and got a second shot at a field goal in overtime. This is the place where Tommy Maddox was temporarily paralyzed. This is the place where an assistant coach furtively threw coffee on Joey Porter.
Jake Locker is calling the signals for the Titans, and the Steelers traditionally do well against young quarterbacks. But with just three days of rest after a tough battle against the Eagles, the aging Steelers won't be at their best. L, 23-17 (3-2)
Week 7: at Cincinnati, Oct. 21, 8:20 p.m.
The Bengals need another receiver to complement A.J. Green, but with their defense, they'll be good enough to post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in 30 years. They'll show they're for real on Sunday Night Football, as Roethlisberger loses in Ohio for just the third time. L, 24-21 (3-3)
Week 8: Washington, Oct. 28, 1 p.m.
Unlike Locker, who at least has had a year to watch and learn, Robert Griffin III really is a rookie quarterback, and the Steelers will pounce. RG3 doesn't have much talent around him on offense, and the Heinz Field faithful will make life tough for him as they try to help the Steelers break a two-game losing streak. W, 34-7 (4-3)
Week 9: at New York Giants, Nov. 4, 4:25 p.m.
If the Steelers offensive line shows any improvement this season, it will be tested against the Giants pass-rush. The Giants are a tough team to figure out. They're the Super Bowl champions, but they also were 9-7 last season.
The Steelers will have a tough time figuring out Eli Manning, who at this point, might be better than his rusty and aging brother. Perhaps it bodes well for the Steelers that they're 0-2 against the Mannings. The last time that happened, they won the Super Bowl. L, 31-25 (4-4)
Week 10: Kansas City, Nov. 12, 8:30 p.m.
The Steelers haven't lost at home on Monday Night Football since 1991 (Giants). The Chiefs won't be an easy team to beat this season, but Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has probably had this one circled on his calendar since the schedule came out in April. He doesn't want to lose to the team that fired him last season.
That motivation will provide the perfect kindling for one of Haley's trademark sideline shouting matches. Admit it; you're dying to see it happen. I say he goes nose-to-nose with Mike Wallace. W, 22-13 (5-4)
Week 11: Baltimore, Nov. 18, 8:20 p.m.
Both of these AFC North titans are getting old on defense. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who's in a contract year, told SI.com's Peter King that he wants to go no-huddle this season. That's fine. Roethlisberger can counter with his own no-huddle, and a Ravens-Steelers game might actually turn into a shootout. That would be stranger than Panera Bread serving foot-long chili dogs.
Because Roethlisberger is better than Flacco, the Steelers have the edge. W, 42-38 (6-4)
Week 12: at Cleveland, Nov. 25, 1 p.m.
Brandon Weeden will turn 29 in October. So the Steelers defense gets to tee off on a rookie quarterback whose body might not be able to bounce back like that of a traditional rookie quarterback. The Steelers might experience a letdown after such a draining win over the Ravens, but a sluggish effort will be enough to beat the Browns, whose two scariest players are Weeden and fellow rookie Trent Richardson. Plus, the Steelers will be fighting for their playoff lives and will need this game. W, 38-10 (7-4)
Week 13: at Baltimore, Dec. 2, 4:25 p.m.
The earth will get back on its axis and these two teams will not light up the scoreboard again. Steelers-Ravens games at Baltimore in December tend to be defensive standoffs. This season, the two slugfests between these teams happen to be three weeks apart.
In between, the Steelers lick their wounds with a short road trip to play the lowly Browns, while the Ravens fly cross-country to San Diego. Advantage Steelers.
The Steelers' fourth straight win and sweep of the Ravens allows everyone to forget their middling 4-4 start. W, 15-14 (8-4)
Week 14: San Diego, Dec. 9, 1 p.m.
Speaking of the Chargers, I'm not saying they'll beat the Ravens in Week 12; I'm just saying the demands of that road trip sandwiched between two games against the Steelers will take a toll on the Ravens.
The Chargers probably need to make the playoffs for head coach Norv Turner to keep his job. His job security won't be helped by the fact that since 2007, West Coast teams are 49-84 in 1 p.m. EST games, according to Cold Hard Football Facts. W, 30-13 (9-4)
Week 15: at Dallas, Dec. 16, 4:25 p.m.
The Cowboys will be in the familiar position of fighting with the Giants for a playoff spot. I don't think the Cowboys get into the playoffs, but they won't collapse in December like they did last season. Tony Romo is no Aaron Rodgers, but the Steelers defense again will struggle on the turf where they lost Super Bowl XLV. L, 33-23 (9-5)
Week 16: Cincinnati, Dec. 23, 1 p.m.
The Steelers finish with two games at home for the first time since 1999, two years before Heinz Field opened. The Steelers, Bengals and Ravens are all in playoff contention at this point, and the Steelers need this game to gain a split with the Bengals.
The Sunday Night Football game scheduled for Week 16 is Chargers at Jets, two teams likely to be out of the playoff race. So don't be surprised if the Bengals and Steelers are flexed to prime time. NBC won't be sorry. W, 19-17 (10-5)
Week 17: Cleveland, Dec. 30, 1 p.m.
The Steelers finish the season against the Browns for the fourth time in five years, and they win their fifth straight regular-season finale. The AFC North race will be so tight that the Steelers won't have the luxury of resting starters.
Browns president Mike Holmgren can have a bug up his behind all he wants about the officiating in Super Bowl XL. The morning after this game, he's getting fired. W, 38-0 (11-5)
An 11-5 record for the Steelers could win the AFC North, and maybe even earn a first-round bye. It at least gets them into the playoffs. It wouldn't be surprising to again see three playoff teams from the AFC North.
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