Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions

Chris GazzeCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Mike Tomlin lives by the mantra “the standard is the standard,” but the Pittsburgh Steelers have failed to meet the standard for two straight seasons.

    Two straight eight-win seasons is unacceptable in Pittsburgh, and the pressure is mounting for Tomlin and Kevin Colbert to get the Steelers back to the playoffs.

    As a result, the Steelers made some significant changes in the offseason. Offensively, they added the talent to take a balanced approach on offense while working out of the no-huddle, while youth and speed were incorporated into the defensive lineup.

    Behind Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers will look to take advantage of a relatively weak schedule over the first seven games of the season, when they will face only one team with a winning record in 2013, per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. As easy as it looks on paper, last year the Steelers showed how easy it is to lose winnable games as they had a four-game losing streak to start the season.

    Pittsburgh is a team in transition, but it's also one that not only can challenge for a playoff spot but also a division title. Will 2014 finally be the year that the Steelers make it back to the playoffs, or will they miss the postseason for the third straight year?

    Here is a prediction for each game of the season.

Week 1: Cleveland Browns

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    TJ Root/Getty Images

    Once the top rivalry for the Steelers, the Cleveland Browns have become an afterthought when it comes to AFC North opponents. That may change once Johnny Manziel takes over the franchise.

    Even though Brian Hoyer will start for Cleveland, Mike Tomlin told reporters at his weekly press conference that he believes that the Steelers will see Manziel (via Steelers.com):

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that (Brian Hoyer) is the guy they’ve chosen to go with, but that being said, we have a great deal of respect for Johnny Manziel and his talents and what he did to get to this point in his career. We fully expect them to utilize him in some capacity in this football game. They didn’t draft him in the first round to watch, and we understand that.

    Given Dick LeBeau’s record against rookie quarterbacks, it is hard to fault the Browns for going with Hoyer. However, the Steelers may have lucked out.

    As raw as he is, Manziel is a playmaker—especially with his legs. Pittsburgh’s defense won’t have to worry about that from Hoyer. He will also have to get by without his top receiving threat, as Josh Gordon is suspended for the season, per NFL.com.

    Pittsburgh has dominated this series since Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999, winning 26 of 31 matchups. That dominance will continue with a season-opening win at Heinz Field.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 27, Browns 10

    Overall Record: 1-0

Week 2: at Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    It will be a quick turnaround for the Steelers as they have a very short week to prepare for a Thursday-night contest against the Baltimore Ravens.

    Traditionally, this game is a slugfest, but these two teams have had a shift of personnel and style over the last few years. Players such as Hines Ward, Joey Porter, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed embodied the rivalry between these two teams, but they are gone, and a new breed of players will learn what this game is all about.

    Two of those players are Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley. This has potential to be a very good storyline as the Steelers passed on Mosley to select Shazier in the draft.

    As far as matchups go, Joe Flacco will try to exploit Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks down the field with the speedy Torrey Smith and veteran Steve Smith. Given the emphasis that the officials will place on illegal contact against defensive backs, the Ravens can exploit this matchup.

    Even if the Ravens are able to get the best of the Steelers’ defensive backs, it figures to be a close game. The two teams have split their previous 22 meetings with their past five meetings decided by three points or less.

    Expect this to be another close game but the home-field advantage will be the difference in a Ravens win.

     

    Final Score: Ravens 23, Steelers 20

    Overall Record: 1-1

Week 3: at Carolina Panthers

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Carolina Panthers have one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league, but this early in this season, Cam Newton will still be adjusting to his new receiving corps.

    Pittsburgh’s secondary can take advantage of this group, especially after getting a preview of Kelvin Benjamin in the final game of the preseason. Carolina’s other threat, Jerricho Cotchery, was a fixture in the Steelers offense last year, and the defensive backs will know his tendencies.

    As long as the Steelers' offensive line can contain the pass rush, odds are Ben Roethlisberger can exploit Carolina’s secondary and have an excellent game. Antonio Brown has a chance to have his best statistical game early in the season.

    Though the matchups seem to favor the Steelers, they are in for a letdown after a tough, emotional loss against the Ravens. Luckily, an out-of-conference loss will not hurt their chances in the race for a spot in the playoffs.

     

    Final Score: Panthers 24, Steelers 20

    Overall Record: 1-2

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tampa Bay is a team on the rise with a strong corps of young players and new head coach Lovie Smith leading the way. His defense will be ready to go as the Buccaneers take a rare trip to Pittsburgh.

    LeBeau will take advantage of a relatively weak offensive line and attack Josh McCown, forcing him into making throws. If there were ever a time for Shazier to take advantage of his speed on the pass rush, it would be this week.

    However, the Steelers cannot be overly aggressive as Tampa Bay’s big, physical receivers could exploit the Steelers’ defensive backs for big plays. One or two of these types of plays would easily change the momentum.

    In a few years, Tampa Bay has the potential to be a very good team but not this year. Pittsburgh’s defense will do enough, and the offense will flash some of its firepower to earn a big win at home.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 27, Buccaneers 13

    Overall Record: 2-2

Week 5: at Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Gus Bradley did a terrific job with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, but they are still a team in the building process. Without an established quarterback, this will be a must-win game for the Steelers.

    The Steelers can expect a hostile atmosphere in Jacksonville as this game has historically drawn a big Jaguars crowd, not to be outdone by the thousands of Steelers fans living in the south.

    Fans may be treated to Blake Bortles by this point of the season, which the Steelers would welcome. LeBeau knows how to scheme against rookie quarterbacks, and even a player as talented as Bortles would struggle. If not Bortles, the defense will have no issues shutting down Chad Henne.

    However, the Steelers cannot overlook this game. Bradley will have his defense ready and will play a physical style in the Florida heat, which will wear on Pittsburgh’s players.

    Pittsburgh will come out with a win, but it will not be easy.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 20, Jaguars 13

    Overall Record: 3-2

Week 6: at Cleveland Browns

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    If the Steelers don’t see Johnny Manziel in the opener, they most certainly will see him in their second matchup of the season. His presence in the lineup will add some much-needed energy for the Cleveland fanbase and heat for this rivalry.

    But even Johnny Football won’t be enough for the Browns to reverse their fortune against the Steelers.

    Behind Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the Steelers offense will provide too much firepower for the Browns to handle. Last year, Brown torched Cleveland’s secondary for 15 receptions for 179 yards and one touchdown in two games.

    Expect another big win over the Cleveland, with the Browns scoring late to make the game closer than it actually was.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 27, Browns 17

    Overall Record: 4-2

Week 7: Houston Texans

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    When a team like the Houston Texans appears on the schedule, it should be easy for the Steelers to chalk one up in the victory column, but this game will be tougher than it appears.

    Houston will struggle on offense without an established quarterback, but Bill O’Brien knows how to manage quarterbacks, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is a capable starter. A strong ground attack from Arian Foster and the Texans will be able to put points on the board.

    Beyond the offense, the Texans’ defense is what should scare the Steelers. Their tackles struggle against elite edge-rushers, and Houston has two of them with Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt. The last thing that the Steelers need is for Roethlisberger to get knocked around and to turn the ball over.

    Pittsburgh must play a clean game, free of turnovers and penalties to avoid an upset loss.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 20, Texans 16

    Overall Record: 5-2

Week 8: Indianapolis Colts

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Coach LeBeau, meet Andrew Luck.

    According to Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain, “Since 2014, quarterbacks making their first start against LeBeau have gone 13-27, averaging a completion percentage of 56 and less than one touchdown per game.”

    Luck isn’t your typical quarterback.

    In just two years, Luck has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Not only is he a top-notch passer, with 8,196 passing yards and 46 touchdowns in his short career, but he is an effective runner with 632 career yards on the ground.

    That will be a problem for Pittsburgh’s defense.

    The only way to stop Luck is to pressure him and force him into mistakes. Until proven otherwise, the Steelers do not have much to offer in terms of rushing the quarterback, and the secondary will be left out to dry if he has time to throw.

    Pittsburgh may be a team on the rise, but it is not ready to compete with one of the AFC’s top teams quite yet.

     

    Final Score: Colts 31, Steelers 23

    Overall Record: 5-3

Week 9: Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    After a tough home loss to the Colts, the Steelers will need to bounce back in a big way against the Ravens.

    For this prime-time matchup, the winner of this game will be in position to win the AFC North division crown, while the loser will have to battle it out in the wild-card race—a spot neither team wants to be in.

    The Steelers have lost three of their past five games to the Ravens at Heinz Field by a margin of three points in each game. In two of those games, Joe Flacco threw a go-ahead touchdown pass with under a minute to go.

    As difficult as it may be, the key for the Steelers to get a win is to build a lead and not be in position to lose the game in the final drive of the game. Unlike previous years, the Steelers have the offense to put a lot of points on the board.

    Over the past two seasons under Todd Haley, the Steelers have taken at least a half-season to get in gear. From what we’ve seen from the starting unit so far, it is ahead of where it was at this point last year and should be clicking on all cylinders by this point of the season.

    The balance of Pittsburgh’s offensive attack will be too much for the Ravens to overcome, putting the Steelers in great shape for a division title.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 31, Ravens 23

    Overall Record: 6-3

Week 10: at New York Jets

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Rex Ryan and the New York Jets will be one of the most physical teams the Steelers will face all season. Playing this game away from Heinz Field will make it an even greater challenge for Tomlin’s team.

    New York’s defensive front consisting of Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Coples will give Pittsburgh’s offensive line problems. Besides putting pressure on Roethlisberger, this unit will neutralize the ground game, forcing Haley to take a one-dimensional approach.

    With the offense in check, it will be up to the Steelers defense to keep them in this game. In order to do so, they must contain Geno Smith.

    Smith struggled as a rookie, completing just 55.8 percent of his passes with 21 interceptions and four fumbles. He has looked better in his second season, but he now must prove that he can carry an offense in the regular season.

    It will be a tight game as these two teams will be in the thick of the playoff race, but it will be Roethlisberger’s experience that gives him the edge over Smith and the Steelers the win.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 17, Jets 14

    Overall Record: 7-3

Week 11: at Tennessee Titans

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Back in 2007, it was down to Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Tomlin for the head coaching position of the Steelers. Tomlin would eventually get the job and Whisenhunt has carved out a successful coaching career in Arizona, San Diego and now Tennessee.

    All of these years later, there is still some intrigue when these two coaches match up. Tomlin has won two of three games against Whisenhunt, including Super Bowl 43, but he will face a different challenge now that Whisenhunt is in charge of the Titans.

    Historically, the Steelers have struggled in Tennessee, winning just two of their past seven meetings. However, the Titans are a team in transition with a new head coach and a new running back. Bishop Sankey is an exciting rookie running back who is taking over for former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson.

    At quarterback, Jake Locker is a dual-threat, passing and running, who could pose problems if the defense is too aggressive and doesn’t follow its assignments.

    The Titans may have pieces in place, but they will not be able to produce on offense to keep up with the Steelers.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 34, Titans 23

    Overall Record: 8-3

Week 13: New Orleans Saints

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    If you have to face Drew Brees, you would want to play him outdoors and in the cold. That is the situation that the Steelers have as New Orleans comes to Heinz Field on November 30. The potential for a cold, windy day with precipitation will help slow down one of the top offenses in the league.

    But if you are counting on the weather to slow down such a dynamic team, the odds of winning are not very high. At this point, the Steelers defense isn’t ready to compete against the elite offenses in the league, and they will have trouble keeping this one close.

    Outside of Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham will present a huge matchup problem for the Steelers. Expect Shazier to spend a lot of time in coverage as he tries to slow down one of the best receiving threats in the game.

    Shazier has been impressive as a rookie and is poised for a big season, but shutting down a player like Graham is a tough task. The Steelers will likely need to provide safety help as well, which will leave them vulnerable for a big play to one of the receivers.

    Pittsburgh’s offense will keep this game close, but the Saints are too good and get an easy win on the road.

     

    Final Score: Saints 38, Steelers 24

    Overall Record: 8-4

Week 14: at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Only the Cincinnati Bengals will stand between the Steelers and an AFC North title, but they will be a tough obstacle to overcome. These two teams play twice over the final month of the season in games, which will carry major playoff implications.

    The Steelers and Bengals split their series last year, and both teams should be satisfied with the same results again this year. A combination of exciting weapons on offense and young, talented defenses make this one of the best late-season games in the entire league.

    A.J. Green will be the go-to target for Andy Dalton, as he will draw double coverage from Pittsburgh’s defense. That should open the middle of the field for the tight end duo of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Combined with the talented Giovani Bernard, the defense will have its hands full.

    Playing in a raucous Paul Brown Stadium, the Steelers will have some trouble running the no-huddle offense and instead must take advantage of their dual running threat of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. These two backs and their physical style of running are perfect for December football.

    In Round 1, the Bengals will get the best of the Steelers and have the edge for the division title heading into their Week 17 game.

     

    Final Score: Bengals 28, Steelers 20

    Overall Record: 8-5

Week 15: at Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    For only the third time since 2002, the Steelers play the Atlanta Falcons, and if this game goes like any of their recent meetings, it will be one to remember.

    Back in 2002, the Steelers and Falcons tied in a wild game, featuring 473 passing yards by Tommy Maddox. However, nothing was more dramatic than when Plaxico Burress came up one yard short of a game-winning touchdown as time expired in overtime.

    Four years later, these two teams played in another overtime classic as Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch combined for over 400 yards passing and five touchdowns. However, it was not enough, as the Steelers fell 41 to 38.

    The Steelers won the most recent meeting between these two teams in a rather bland game compared to the previous two. Do not expect these teams to disappoint this year.

    Behind Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons will be back in playoff contention and competing for a division title. A great passing team with two excellent receiving weapons spells bad news for the Steelers. Add in the dome factor and it is a recipe for a loss.

    Stuck in the middle of their toughest stretch of the season, the Steelers drop a third straight game.

     

    Final Score: Falcons 34, Steelers 27

    Overall Record: 8-6

Week 16: Kansas City Chiefs

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    Tom Lynn/Associated Press

    One year ago, the Steelers nearly had everything fall their way to make the playoffs. All they needed was a Kansas City Chiefs win, and they were in.

    It wasn’t meant to be, as Ryan Succop’s 41-yard field goal went wide right, leaving the Steelers at home for the second consecutive season. Now they get a chance to not only get some form of “revenge” against the Chiefs but also control their own playoff destiny with a win.

    The mobile Alex Smith will present a challenge as he can make plays with his legs and is very effective in the short-passing game. It will be tough for Pittsburgh’s pass-rushers to reach Smith before he gets rid of the football.

    The greater concern, though, comes from Jamaal Charles as he can run wild on Pittsburgh’s run defense. He last played the Steelers in 2012, rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries and had a touchdown. Unless Pittsburgh’s defense dramatically improves, Charles will easily break 100 yards and have the chance for multiple scores.

    Kansas City’s defense is nothing to shy away from either, with talented players such as Dontari Poe, Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry and Tamba Hali.

    Hali and his ability to get to the quarterback will present the Steelers with their toughest challenge. To counter this, they will have to utilize as quick-passing attack and establish a strong running game.

    Unlike last season when the Steelers came up small in must-win games, they will have a strong performance against the Chiefs and win a tough one setting up a meaningful final week game against the Bengals.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 19, Chiefs 17

    Overall Record: 9-6

Week 17: Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    With a win against the Chiefs, the Steelers enter the finale in a “win and you’re in” scenario. A rivalry game to decide the division crown is as good as it gets to end the season.

    Despite only winning one of their previous four games, the Steelers have an edge entering the game.

    Two straight years without a playoff appearance will have the Steelers hungry and motivated. A challenging second half of the season will have them mentally tough. Fans will be fired up with a chance to attend a home playoff game for the first time since 2010.

    There are plenty of individual matchups to break down that will influence the result of this game, but it will all come down to the play of Roethlisberger versus Dalton.

    Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and Dalton has never won a playoff game. It may not be the postseason yet, but this is essentially a playoff game, and Roethlisberger will be the difference.

    A win over the Bengals gives the Steelers the AFC North title and their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season.

     

    Final Score: Steelers 24, Bengals 17

    Overall Record: 10-6

     

    Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, and all roster information is courtesy of Ourlads.com.  

     

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