Goin’ deep while I wonder how much John Madden really liked his final game as a broadcaster.
If the Steelers don’t win at least 12 games in the regular season, then Arlen Specter will call for an investigation. This team has the potential to be the best since the Super '70s, in fact. It has that much talent, depth, experience and leadership across the board.
Otherwise, who dey think gonna beat dem Steelers? Unlike last season, the schedule is very manageable. In fact, it’s so manageable that it’s hard to pick more than three or four tough games.
Here’s the breakdown:
If there’s one game to circle on your calendar, it’s the Oct. 4 date with the Chargers at Heinz Field. It’s possible that the winner will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. It's also possible that, if the Steelers get past this one, they will make a serious run at a 16-0 season.
Unlike the Steelers and the New England Patriots, the Chargers won’t start the season with six victories in their division. Have you looked at the Charmin Division lately? Er, I mean the AFC West? The Broncos and Chiefs aren’t even in the area code of mediocrity. I like the Raiders to finish third. No, not in the division—behind the San Francisco 49ers and the California Golden Bears in the Bay Area.
The AFC North will be more competitive than a year ago. The Ravens look to be no better or worse than last season. The Bengals have the potential to move up in class. The Browns can’t help but improve.
The Chargers have a more difficult schedule than the Steelers on the road, what with games against the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Tennessee Titans among others. Still, don’t be surprised if the two teams finish in a dead heat, in which case head-to-head play would be the first tiebreaker.
When all is said and done, the Steelers' season is likely to come down to the play of the offensive line.
You knew it would come down to that, didn't you?
If the offense can run the ball consistently, it will have a ripple effect on both sides of the ball. That means fewer second-and-long situations, which means less predictable play calls, which means fewer blitzes, which means Roethlisberger stays off a gurney, which means the defense won’t spend as much time on the field.
Coaches and management insisted that the o-line would benefit from a year of experience together. On Thursday night, we’ll begin to know if they were right.
My stone-cold locks for the 2009 season:
* Roethlisberger will throw at least twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions.
* Stefan Logan will become the best 28-year-old rookie in Steelers history.
* D-coordinator Dick LeBeau will resort to the 2-4-5 alignment more frequently, which won't be good news for nose tackle Casey Hampton, the soon-to-be free agent.
* After the Carolina Panthers fail to earn a postseason bid, Bill Cowher will replace John Fox as head coach.
* Rookie Mike Wallace will unseat Limas Sweed as the No. 3 receiver before the close of the season.
* Willie Parker will respond with a 1,200-plus-yard season and quiet the talk about Rashard Mendenhall as the feature back of the future.
* There will be times when linebacker Lawrence Timmons makes people wish that Larry Foote were still around.
* The Patriots and Steelers will meet in the AFC Championship Game, where they will decide this Team of the Decade thing once and for all.
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