With the Pittsburgh Steelers now in full-on preparation mode for the 2013 NFL season, the time has come to take a look at Pittsburgh’s schedule of opponents next season and see what the future may hold for a hopefully revitalized squad.
Here’s a look at each opponent for 2013 and how the Steelers will likely stack up against them at this point.
The defending AFC North champions are always a tough out on the Pittsburgh schedule twice a season. Expect 2013 to be no different, and both teams will return similar rosters to the ones they currently employ.
The one change for Baltimore will likely be at offensive coordinator. The Steelers faced Cam Cameron’s system twice in 2012. Someone new will be at the controls next season. Expect that person to employ running back Ray Rice more often.
The Steelers have done a good job of shutting Rice down, but a more consistent dose of the runner could be harmful to a defensive front that still projects to be rather thin in the middle.
The Steelers will need to have Larry Foote back or a replacement to shore up the linebackers and will likely be going with Steve McLendon in the middle of the line. That will be a plus, as McLendon is more athletic than Casey Hampton, the team’s starter in 2012.
All things considered, a split is the most likely way for this to go. Unlike 2012, where each team won on the road, this split will be more traditional. Each team will win in its own house and fall by one score on the road.
The Cleveland Browns haven’t swept the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1988. That stretch encompasses all of former coach Bill Cowher’s regime and current coach Mike Tomlin’s as well. The Steelers have had the upper hand against Cleveland since the Browns returned to the league.
Cleveland will have an entirely new regime in 2013. The Browns may also have a different starting quarterback. How that impacts this rivalry is anyone’s guess.
The Browns did beat Pittsburgh in 2012 during a game in Cleveland. While the Steelers played exceptionally poor in that game and committed eight turnovers, they did so without a starting quarterback.
In 2013, with a new regime changing everything once again, expect the Steelers to continue to dominate their opponents from by the lake. A sweep is certainly in order here.
The Cincinnati Bengals seem to be a team on the rise despite some concerns about quarterback Andy Dalton’s clutch abilities. In 2012, they split their season set with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This has become more of a custom in recent years as coach Marvin Lewis has put the Bengals back on the map.
2013 will bring new challenges for the Steelers as they go against their rivals from the Queen City. They will have to defend the rushing attack of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the primary concern will be the stable of Cincinnati receivers led by A.J. Green.
Pittsburgh will need to work on retaining Keenan Lewis, who played very well in both contests against Cincinnati last year, to assist Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu in covering those pass-catchers.
Offensively, Pittsburgh will have to run the ball better to back off the Bengals pass rush, which was one of the best in the NFL. Expect Vontaze Burfict to be even better in his second season and for Cincinnati to give Pittsburgh everything it has in both contests.
A sweep for either team isn’t out of the question, but let’s go with another split here. That would give the Steelers a respectable 4-2 mark in the division.
Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone will coach the Buffalo Bills in 2013 after the team parted ways with former Pittsburgh assistant Chan Gailey after three years.
Next year will likely be a transition year for Buffalo as it tries to implement an attack more geared toward the running of C.J. Spiller and relying less on the passing of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has disappointed since signing a huge extension.
For Pittsburgh, the challenges will be stopping Spiller and containing the Bills pass rush. Buffalo’s talented defense underachieved in 2012. Expect that to change as players mesh better and Mario Williams returns to his career levels.
Buffalo isn’t an easy out despite having not made the playoffs since 1999. The Steelers, however, have more than enough to ensure they don’t win this game.
The biggest key for Pittsburgh, since this is a struggling opponent, is to make sure it shows up for the game and doesn't have an outing like it did in 2012 against Oakland, Tennessee, San Diego and in Cleveland.
This is perhaps one of the more difficult games to predict for several reasons.
First, the Minnesota Vikings are a very unpredictable team when it comes to performance. They relied heavily in 2012 upon Adrian Peterson to run through opposing defenses. Christian Ponder played gradually better down the stretch and figures to have healthier and more plentiful weapons in 2013, however.
If the Vikings can field a balanced attack, it could give Pittsburgh some trouble. The Steelers figure to be able to at least slow Peterson somewhat.
Minnesota has a good defense, but it doesn't put up numbers that would blow anyone out of the water and it certainly struggles to slow down offenses that have a good quarterback and fast receivers. That is a bad matchup with Pittsburgh, which has both of those.
This game will likely come down to one or two plays. In that situation, expect the more veteran team (Pittsburgh) to come out on top.
Miami’s football team should be better in 2013 after another offseason of reloading. The Dolphins have a great quarterback in place. The rushing attack is sound. The defense has a lot of nice pieces as well.
Miami has more money than almost anyone to spend under the cap, so a big offseason is in store. The Dolphins must pick up some receivers for Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball to and also would benefit from some tweaks along the offensive line and on defense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in an opposing situation. They are an older team that will have to work to get to the salary cap, and they need to reload at a lot of key positions on both sides of the ball.
This should be a closer game than many would think. Assuming a revived Dolphins passing attack pairs with the dynamic Reggie Bush in the backfield, this actually is a game that could go against the Steelers.
Let’s go with an overtime stunner for the Dolphins here. This is the classic game that Pittsburgh won’t take seriously until it is too late.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Oakland for a second consecutive season in 2013. The 2012 game between these two was stunningly bad on Pittsburgh’s side. The Steelers lost 34-31 on a last-second field goal by Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski.
Assuming some sanity returns in this game, the Raiders will be the team on the losing end in 2013. The Steelers should dominate on both sides of the ball.
This game would be better later in the year when the Steelers are traditionally at their best and most alert. Where it is scheduled could have some impact on the outcome.
At this point, unless the Raiders make some unbelievable improvement on both sides of the ball, the Steelers should take this one handily.
This is another stunner from 2012 that will get a repeat of sorts in 2013. The Tennessee Titans, doormats throughout the season, handled the Pittsburgh Steelers in Nashville this season.
In 2013, expect the result to be different.
With a few exceptions, the Steelers have owned this rivalry since Steve McNair left as the Tennessee quarterback. Even with McNair under center, the Steelers traditionally showed strong against their former AFC Central rivals.
The key, as always, is to stop Chris Johnson from having a big day. Pittsburgh’s run defense projects to be better in 2013 with an infusion of youth and a theoretically healthy Troy Polamalu. Those will contribute greatly to success in this game.
Jake Locker currently projects as the starting quarterback for the Titans. That’s not a good sign for them. He hasn’t been good, and his receivers don’t give him a lot of help.
The Steelers should win this one handily, but watch out if this game comes mid-year again with one team surging and the other struggling.
Expect the Jets to be a better team next year. A new offensive coordinator (perhaps Norv Turner) will get a lot more out of Mark Sanchez than Tony Sparano or Brian Schottenheimer were able to do. Sanchez is the classic system quarterback. Build a system around him and he’ll be fine.
The problem is that everyone has been trying to impose their will on him. That doesn’t work.
He’ll be helped by a return to health at receiver and hopefully some new pieces there as well. The Jets will return 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene to balance the attack.
Defensively, the Jets should get a boost from Darrelle Revis, who will likely return either before or early in the season.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, this means that they will not be facing a doormat team on the road. They’ll be facing a very hungry, motivated team with a good defense.
That said, the Steelers should still claim victory in this game. Pittsburgh’s Dick LeBeau gives Sanchez fits whenever the two teams meet. That trend will continue.
Detroit underachieved spectacularly in 2012. While that didn’t cost coach Jim Schwartz his job, it may force changes on his staff and will almost certainly alter the team’s personnel in 2013.
The Lions possess one of the league’s best players in receiver Calvin Johnson. “Megatron” is the type of player the Pittsburgh Steelers dread to some degree. He can get open anywhere and on anyone. Here again is a reason to retain Keenan Lewis at cornerback.
The Lions will be a tougher team in 2013 unless they have another spectacular implosion. That’s hard to predict happening again. A full season of Mikel LeShoure in the backfield will help, as will another infusion of young defensive help in the draft.
The Steelers likely won’t lose this game, however. The defense will be prepared to face a player like Johnson, and the offense should be able to shred this defense with a balanced attack.
Nobody in the NFL wants to play the New England Patriots on their home turf. The Patriots traditionally dominate opposing competition in their house.
But are those days coming to a close? The Patriots showed some cracks at home during the regular season. Eventually that Tom Brady magic will run out and this team will once again have to find a way to be more than ordinary.
That said, this is still a very good team with an improving, young defense.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, this isn’t a good game to run into. They don’t necessarily match up well with the Patriots, and the past results, particularly in Foxboro, aren’t pretty.
While it’s tempting to put this down as a loss for the Steelers, this might be just the kind of game that Mike Tomlin’s team shows up for with a lot of motivation. This is 2013’s upset special.
Expect a Pittsburgh victory in overtime.
Pittsburgh will get a rare visit from one of the league’s oldest franchises when the Chicago Bears visit Heinz Field next season.
The Bears will be sporting a new coach and likely an entirely new philosophy on offense. That’s welcome news to Bears fans who are tired of seeing Jay Cutler destroyed behind a raggedy offensive line.
Expect the new offense to be built around Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall with a healthy dose of running back Matt Forte. These are the bread-and-butter players for Chicago, who narrowly missed the playoffs this season.
This game figures to be defense against defense. Both teams sport strong, veteran units. Both offenses have similar structure. The Steelers have more weapons, but the Bears aren’t slouches there.
This game will be tough to the wire, but in an even matchup, take the home team to pull out a close victory.
This game is interesting. On paper, the Green Bay Packers are a one-dimensional offense and a struggling defense wrapped into one roster.
The rushing attack may not be a problem for much longer, however. The personnel seem to be in the backfield. The offensive line, young and slowly improving, is the major issue. That could be solved by a few tweaks and more experience.
The defense is a little bit more concerning because there’s obvious talent all over that side of the ball. The linebackers are a core strength and the secondary is talented. They just don’t stop too many teams.
The test in this game for Pittsburgh will be how well the Steelers run the football. Teams that run on the Packers usually defeat them. Teams that can’t are in some trouble.
Expect the Steelers to play this one close but to come up a bit short against a team that, right now, is ahead of them in talent and performance.