2013 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info & Analysis

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVApril 19, 2013

2013 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info & Analysis

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    Thursday's announcement of the 2013 NFL schedule, though timed as usual before the draft, does present a few opportunities to make some very early predictions about how the Pittsburgh Steelers may fare this season.

    Last year, the Steelers went 8-8 and then embarked on another offseason of roster changes, partially to help relieve their yearly issues with the salary cap.

    Has this left the Steelers weaker or stronger against their upcoming opponents?

    Let's take a look at who the Steelers face this season, and whether or not they have what it takes to improve on their disappointing 2012 outing.

Week 1: Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans have been playing each other every year since 2008, with the Steelers winning three of those meetings and the Titans two—including a surprise 26-23 upset in Week 6 of the 2012 season. 

    The Titans winning last season seemed almost like a fluke—they won just six games in 2012 and scored over 30 points just four times.

    Though they have running back Chris Johnson (augmented at the goal line this year with Shonn Greene), Johnson isn't the threat he once was. Meanwhile, the passing game is still a work-in-progress, with Jake Locker finally taking over the job full-time this year. 

    On defense, the Titans gave up a dismal 374.5 yards per game last season. They were strong against neither the run nor the pass, much as they struggled both passing and running the ball themselves on offense. 

    The Steelers have their issues, certainly, but they aren't as mired in mediocrity as the Titans are at present. As long as the Steelers don't head into this year's meeting with a flat demeanor as they did last season, which led to their demise, they should handle their business and earn another win.


    Prediction: Steelers, 30-17

Week 2: Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Kickoff Time: 8:40 PM Eastern

    Network: ESPN, Monday Night Football


    Since 2005, the Cincinnati Bengals have only defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers five times, despite the two teams meeting twice a year. Last season, they fell to the Bengals, 13-10, effectively ending any shot the Steelers had of making the playoffs as a Wild Card.

    In the past two seasons, the Bengals have made the postseason twice, though they didn't win either playoff game. The Steelers have made the postseason once in that span, again with no wins. That's not the typical Steelers playoff experience, nor is the Bengals making the postseason in two consecutive seasons a regular occurrence.

    It's a sign that there's a changing of the guard in the AFC North. Where the Steelers once stood now seems to be the new stomping grounds of the Bengals. Where the Steelers once had Mike Wallace, the Bengals have A.J. Green; where the Steelers once had the pass-rushing one-two punch of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, the Bengals have Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson. And Pittsburgh's secondary only seems to get older, while the Bengals' gets younger and more athletic.

    The torch is being passed—after all, it is the NFL, and nothing can stay the same for long. Especially not for a team like the Steelers, whose attempts at evolution haven't gone as smoothly as the Bengals' efforts.


    Prediction: Bengals, 24-17

Week 3: Steelers vs. Chicago Bears

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    Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM Eastern

    Network: NBC, Sunday Night Football


    The Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears have had similar struggles over the past few seasons—namely on the offensive line and in keeping their respective quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler, protected.

    As such, expect both the Steelers' and Bears' defenses to bring a lot of pressure when the two teams meet this season to exploit this long-term weakness. Granted, both the Bears and the Steelers have also tried to improve their offensive lines, so neither may be as successful in getting at the quarterback as in seasons past, but it doesn't mean they won't try.

    If Cutler can get time to throw, he has quite the dangerous receiver in Brandon Marshall. Holding down that passing offense—while not allowing Bears running back Matt Forte to break free—will be required for the Steelers to pull out the win.

    The Bears project to be a better, more stable team in 2013 and should put up quite the fight. If this game were in Chicago, it would be harder to see the Steelers winning. However, this matchup takes place in Pittsburgh, and that slight but real home-field advantage should be enough to tip the scales in the Steelers' favor.


    Prediction: Steelers, 31-28

Week 4: Steelers at Minnesota Vikings

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    Are the Minnesota Vikings for real—improving, inch by inch, to the tune of a Wild Card playoff berth in 2012—or was that a one-time occurrence, never to be repeated while Christian Ponder is their starting quarterback? The Pittsburgh Steelers will be among those to find out this season, as they head across the pond to take on the confounding Vikings in London, England as the designated visiting team.

    Obviously, if the Steelers need to do one thing to win this game, it's contain Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who is without question their biggest and best offensive weapon. Though they also added veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings in free agency, he doesn't particularly compare to the multi-talented Percy Harvin, whom the Vikings shipped to the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason.

    Containing Peterson, forcing Ponder to throw and then shutting down his most reliable target in Jennings is a perfect way for the Steelers to get the win via their defense alone. On offense, the Steelers may be a bit short-handed if tight end Heath Miller isn't yet recovered from his ACL tear—and if their run game starts the season off slowly. 

    Luckily, the Steelers do have enough defensive capability to shut down the Vikings' scoring options, as well as the offensive talent to put up enough points to win.


    Prediction: Steelers, 20-10

Week 6: Steelers at New York Jets

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    Though both the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers seem to perennially have financial issues relating to their management of salary cap space, that's just about where the similarities between the two end. It's hard to imagine the Jets were in the AFC North title game just a few short seasons ago, considering the steep slide they've taken over the past two seasons.

    Now, the Steelers aren't the same team, either, but they haven't suffered and struggled as much as the Jets have. Seemingly every member of the Jets' roster is no match for the Steelers. Even if the Steelers head into this contest against the Jets looking weak or beat up, it won't matter. The Jets are a punchline for a reason, and the Steelers shouldn't have trouble dispatching them this year. Last season, the Steelers defeated them 27-10; expect a similarly dominant performance in 2013.


    Prediction: Steelers, 34-13

Week 7: Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    Kickoff Time: 4:25 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The Baltimore Ravens are defending Super Bowl champions, while the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't even make the playoffs last season. That'll be enough for the Steelers to host their biggest rivals with a bit of extra anger and fire driving them. However, anger and fire don't win football games—football players do.

    Though the Steelers certainly have good players still on their roster, the Ravens have only become stronger this offseason. They've released older players and let others leave in free agency, not to protect their salary cap like the Steelers often are forced into doing, but in order to build a solid roster for the long term. 

    It now appears as if the Ravens are unquestionably a better, more well-rounded team than the Steelers. Combine that with the momentum the Ravens still have from their Super Bowl win, and the Steelers look to fall in a close game to their rivals at home this season.


    Prediction: Ravens, 7-6

Week 8: Steelers at Oakland Raiders

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    Kickoff Time: 4:05 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    Oh, those pesky Oakland Raiders. The Steelers have taken them on four times since 2006, and the Raiders have a combined 19 wins over those four years and have beaten the Steelers three times—twice in Oakland and once in Pittsburgh.

    The Raiders loss in 2012 was particularly demoralizing for the Steelers. Their defense seemed unable to adjust to what the typically anemic Oakland offense was showing them, all while the Steelers offense couldn't build a rhythm. The 34-31 loss was the Steelers' second in three weeks and certainly set the tone for their inconsistent year.

    For one reason or another, Oakland is a difficult place for the Steelers to find a win. However, it might be a bit easier this season. Carson Palmer is gone, and though he wasn't particularly wonderful for the Raiders, their other options at present are Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor, who are untested and don't particularly engender a ton of confidence.

    While the Raiders project to be just as bad as they were in 2012, when they notched a mere four wins, the history between the team and the Steelers means that if Pittsburgh is in any danger of an upset loss this year, it will be on this trip to Oakland. But on paper, the Steelers are far better, without question. While not a sure thing, the Steelers are still the obvious choice to win this game.


    Prediction: Steelers, 30-27

Week 9: Steelers at New England Patriots

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    Kickoff Time: 4:25 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The New England Patriots are among the most formidable of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 opponents. While the Patriots have spent the better part of the 21st century as one of the league's most dominant teams, they've never been content to rest on their laurels and always embrace change.

    In fact, the Patriots' two-tight-end approach with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez has fully altered the way teams approach and play offense. There is no stagnancy accompanying the Patriots' years of success.

    The same cannot be said for the Steelers, who seem content to play each season as they did the last. Misses in the draft compounded with injuries have had something to do with this, as well as an unwillingness to part ways with long-term veterans until it's too late. 

    The NFL is an "evolve or die" league, and the Steelers are finding themselves left behind, as they simply haven't done much to catch up with the changes around them. The one constant in this contest, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, will be able to adjust to the Steelers with ease. This isn't going to be a pretty loss for the Steelers.


    Prediction: Patriots, 38-20

Week 10: Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The Pittsburgh Steelers might have a lot of holes in their game that could result in another season of struggle in 2013, but that doesn't mean they're going to lose to every opponent they face. Even a depleted or incomplete Steelers roster is still better than some of the other struggling franchises in the league, the Buffalo Bills included.

    The Bills' issues begin at the quarterback—their starting job is currently being filled by "To Be Determined"—and extend throughout the team. As long as Pittsburgh's defense can contain Bills running back C.J. Spiller, Buffalo shouldn't be able to put up enough points to match the Steelers. 


    Prediction: Steelers, 21-10

Week 11: Steelers vs. Detroit Lions

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: FOX


    The Detroit Lions are one of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL—and that's not a compliment. When they can put everything together, the Lions appear unstoppable. Unfortunately for them, this doesn't happen as often as the talent on their roster would indicate, and instead they've found themselves on the losing end of a number of close contests, thanks to a lack of fourth-quarter discipline.

    The Steelers, too, have fourth-quarter issues, but none as serious as those of the Lions. The main issue for the Steelers in this contest is their need to be prepared for the good version of the Lions, while also hoping to force them into performing poorly.

    This means finding a strategy to keep the ball out of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson's hands, while also being prepared for whatever wrinkle running back Reggie Bush presents alongside the Lions' other backs. The Steelers must also limit their offensive mistakes; they don't want this game to be close in the fourth quarter, despite Detroit's recent history.


    Prediction: Steelers, 34-24

Week 12: Steelers at Cleveland Browns

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland last year thanks to a confluence of events that greatly benefited them. The Steelers were without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had been injured two weeks prior against the Kansas City Chiefs. They also were without Roethlisberger's primary backup, Byron Leftwich, who was hurt in the previous week's meeting with the Baltimore Ravens. 

    The result was a 20-14 loss, five lost fumbles (including one apiece for four Steelers' running backs) and three interceptions thrown by third-string quarterback Charlie Batch. It was probably the ugliest the Steelers have looked on offense in recent memory.

    While this year's road meeting with the Browns won't likely feature as many Steelers blunders, it still points to another Pittsburgh loss. Cleveland is a difficult place to play, even when the Browns aren't considered a tough team, but with the Browns' stock rising things should be even more frustrating for the Steelers this year.

    The Browns are a team on the rise, and their 2013 performances against the Steelers will cement this fact.


    Prediction: Browns, 21-17

Week 13: Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

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    Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM Eastern

    Network: NBC, Sunday Night Football


    The Baltimore Ravens have lost just two home games in the past two seasons—and one of those was a Week 13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012. Before that, December 2010 was the last time that the Ravens had fallen to the Steelers in Baltimore. It's a rare occurrence to be sure, and serves to illustrate just how much of an underdog the Steelers are when visiting their most-hated rivals, as well as the power of Baltimore's home-field advantage.

    The Ravens and Steelers both underwent a number of high-profile roster changes this offseason, but the Ravens emerged from that process stronger, while the Steelers don't seem to have fared as well. If that trend continues through the draft and the remainder of the offseason, it's going to be quite the game of catch-up the Steelers will have to play to be considered in the same echelon as the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.

    While Ben Roethlisberger is the better, more proven quarterback between he and Ravens counterpart Joe Flacco, that's practically where the advantages begin and end for the Steelers. Granted, that means the Steelers defense might be able to pressure Flacco into oblivion, and Pittsburgh's offense could also take advantage of the Ravens no longer having Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard on the field. But when comparing these two rosters on paper at present, the Ravens have the upper hand. The game being in Baltimore only furthers that conclusion.


    Prediction: Ravens, 30-20

Week 14: Steelers vs. Miami Dolphins

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The Miami Dolphins' 2013 foray into Heinz Field marks the return of former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace to his old home stadium—and indeed, containing Wallace will be the Steelers' biggest defensive concern.

    The key is not only to cover Wallace effectively—which has proven difficult for Steelers opponents in the past, thanks to his blistering speed—but to also keep Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill from having enough time to even get the ball to him. 

    Aside from Wallace, however, the Dolphins are still trying to amass a group of receivers for Tannehill, which could force them into one-dimensionality. The Steelers aren't in great shape on offense themselves, but the scales certainly tip in their favor here.


    Prediction: Steelers, 14-10

Week 15: Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM Eastern

    Network: NBC, Sunday Night Football


    Along with the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals are starting to shore up their status at the top of the AFC North. The Browns are also trending upward, so that leaves just the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are on a downward slide.

    Granted, things will change starting next week in the draft, and continue to take shape as the offseason progresses, but at this point it's hard to look at this version of the Steelers and see the one that went to three Super Bowls in the past decade.

    The Bengals have spent the past two years trying to build a resilient, well-rounded roster, and the result has been two winning seasons that have included playoff appearances. They have one of the best pass rushes in the league, an elite wide receiver in A.J. Green and seem to be on the brink of finally getting their run game in order.

    On the other hand, the Steelers don't have one clear-cut star for Ben Roethlisberger to throw to, as well as a run game with more questions than answers and a defense that appears to be getting weaker rather than stronger. The Bengals have also been peskier for the Steelers when in Heinz Field.

    Add all of these things together, and the Steelers don't seem to be up to the task of beating the Bengals in this matchup.


    Prediction: Bengals, 21-16

Week 16: Steelers at Green Bay Packers

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    Kickoff Time: 4:25 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers met was in the Super Bowl, capping off the 2010 season. The Packers won, 31-25 and the Steelers haven't entirely shaken off the sting of the loss. 

    They'll have an opportunity for a modicum of revenge this year when they head to Lambeau Field to face the Packers. Green Bay, like the Steelers, seem to be hoping their success in years past can carry over to the next season, without making many changes to their overall philosophy. This has had mixed results—the Steelers, for example, went 8-8 last year, while the Packers went 11-5 and notched themselves a playoff win before being knocked out of the postseason by the San Francisco 49ers.

    The Packers' formula, therefore, appears to still be working, despite their playoff disappointments the past two years, while the Steelers' has finally started to show significant cracks in the mortar. Do the Steelers have enough talent on defense to keep Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from moving the ball at will, or enough playmakers on offense to match any potential Packers' production?

    At this early moment, the answer to both those questions appears to be "no." While things can certainly change in the months leading up to the two teams meeting, right now it looks like the Steelers won't be winning this particular road contest.


    Prediction: Packers, 28-17

Week 17: Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

    Network: CBS


    The 2013 season marks 10 years since the Cleveland Browns have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, and at first glance it seems like it would be easy to keep the streak alive. The Browns haven't even had a winning record since 2007, and they are yet again working on a full-scale rebuild that could take at least one year to really produce results.

    However, the Steelers aren't in particularly good shape, at least at this pre-draft moment. Though they managed to keep wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from going to the Patriots, their depth at receiver is concerning, as is the knee injury from which tight end Heath Miller is still recovering. On defense, who knows whether the Steelers can both turn around their pass rush and repeat as one of the top secondaries in passing yards allowed.

    Because of age and finances, the Steelers are starting to trend downward, while the Browns are heading upward. For the first time in a decade, the Browns could actually be able to catch the Steelers and win. 


    Prediction: Browns, 10-7