Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Bold Predictions for the 2011 NFL Season
The last image many Steeler fans have of their beloved black and gold on the gridiron is of Aaron Rodgers torching the defense for 304 passing yards and three touchdowns. Unless of course you count filming for the upcoming blockbuster film ,The Dark Knight Rises, last Saturday. Hopefully, the Steelers had more success on Gotham's field than they did in Dallas last February.
Mike Tomlin will try to lead his team back to the Super Bowl for the third time in his short tenure. He will be looking to cap off the 2011 campaign without an anti-climatic ending. The pieces are still in place, and the stars are aligned to make another run through the AFC.
It will not be easy with a lot of ruckus coming out of the AFC East. Obviously, Peyton Manning will also hope his neck keeps his head on his shoulders as he looks to emerge back to the promise land. The AFC also features a lot of intriguing young teams, such as the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns, who hope their 2011 season will play out like a movie.
If the Steelers return to the Super Bowl, certain players will have to overachieve, and the ball will have to bounce their way more times than not. Here are five bold predictions for the already contending Pittsburgh Steelers.
5. Mike Wallace Will Lead the AFC in Recieving Yards and Surpass 1,500 Yards
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This is the least bold out of the bunch, hence why it is No. 5.
Mike Wallace finished third in the AFC last season with 1,250 yards. He also started the season relatively slow when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended, having less than 30 yards in two of his first four games. He did not have one game under 30 yards with Roethlisberger as he quarterback.
Expectations are high for the third year wide out, who is hoovering around the league's elite right now. Whether positive or negative, nobody has higher expectations for Mike Wallace than, well, Mike Wallace.
He told reporters last week that he wants 2,000 yards. Yes, 2,000 yards. Not only would that be uncharted territory for any wide receiver in the history of the game, but he would beat Jerry Rice's record by more than 150 yards.
The pieces are in place for Wallace to improve this year (The pieces will never be in place for him to achieve a 2,000 yard season). He proved in the second half of last season that he is no longer a one trick pony. Roethlisberger and Wallace added a lethal slant pass to their arsenal, and No. 17 learned how to be deceptive with his speed.
Hines Ward is aging. Emmanuel Sanders has a bad wheel right now. Mike Wallace must be the man. Teams still cannot double team Wallace consistently because of the other playmakers the offense features. Running back Rashard Mendenhall eliminates the possibility of defenses going light in the box. More importantly for Wallace, tight end Heath Miller is one of the Roethlisberger's favorite targets and has the ability to dominate the middle of the field, which keeps the safety's between the hash marks.
Competition among AFC wide outs are stiff, but not overwhelming. Brandon Lloyd led the conference in yards last year, but the Denver Broncos could be looking at a quarterback controversy all season long. Reggie Wayne is on the wrong side of 30. Andre Johnson seemingly always battles nagging injuries, and with an improved defense, Houston might not have to throw the ball 40 times every game.
By this time next year, when Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Roddy White are mentioned, it will be impossible to not mention Mike Wallace.
4. Changing of the Guards at the Linebacker Position, New Kids on the Block
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Admittedly, this might be better suited for the 2012 bold predictions article, but there is no reason to wait.
Only LaMarr Woodley, who currently swims in cash when he has some free time, is cemented as a long term starter for the Steelers. Lawrence Timmons will be looking for a new contract next year, James Farrior is on his last legs and James Harrison's future is as predictable as Pittsburgh weather.
The time is now to work the young linebackers into the rotation, and Dick LeBeau will do that in the 2011 season.
The most noticeable change will be that of Steven Sylvester slowly starting to replace James Farrior as one of the middle linebackers. Farrior, now 36, had a better 2010 season than 2009, but a regression is surefire. Sylvester, right now, is a better cover linebacker than Farrior and will see the field a lot in 3rd down situations. By the end of the season, Sylvester will be splitting duties on early downs.
Farrior has been an unsung hero for a long time and is one of the greatest linebackers in the franchise's rich history, but this will be the year he passes the torch. His leadership qualities are priceless and still will see a lot of time on the field. With that being said, he will not sniff 100 tackles again.
Possibly more surprising will be the amount of snaps Jason Worilds gets over James Harrison. This will have nothing to do with Harrison's off the field issues or comments, but it does make sense. The front office needs to give Timmons and Troy Polamalu new contracts next year. It is not debatable; because of age, Timmons is more crucial to the long term plan than Harrison. The former Defensive Player of the Year will be 34 at the start of the 2012 season, and do not be surprised if he is cut next offseason.
If he is going to be released, the defense must groom Worilds now. He is freakishly similar to Harrison with more athletic ability. He was a bad mama jamma at Virginia Tech and was a special teams force last year. He will be a sack specialist for the Steelers soon. Harrison might think he is not replaceable, and if he does, then somebody needs to give him Clark Haggans and Joey Porter's phone number. Expect Worilds to see around 10 snaps a game.
This added depth will also help keep the veterans fresh for the December and January push.
3. Issac Redman Will Score More Touchdowns Than Rashard Mendenhall
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Now it's time to get bold!
Mendenhall is the feature back. There is no doubt about that. He ability to run between the tackles or bounce to the outside makes him a top priority for all opposing defenses.
The shelf life for a NFL running back is incredibly short, and Mendenhall cannot continue getting 320-plus carries. He also has a knack for putting the ball on the carpet. Rashard will quickly remind you that he only had two fumbles in the regular season last year, but the amount of times he held the ball like a carton of eggs can make a fan's head explode.
Isaac Redman can cure all of those problems. He averaged 4.8 yards per pop on 52 attempts last year and 7.1 on only seven attempts in the postseason. His long in the postseason was 16 yards. He did not get the majority of those 50 yards on one attempt.
Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians seemed reluctant to give Redman opportunities despite consistent results. He will be forced to give the power back out of Bowie State more carries this year. He should be trusted more inside the 10 yard line and will finish plays with more authority.
The big man can also catch the ball, which practically eliminates Mewalde Moore from the rotation. With a strong camp from rookie Baron Batch, Moore might not make the team. That will enable Redman to get even more chances to get his paws on the ball.
The Steelers also dealt with a plethora of redzone issues on offense last year. Play calling and execution hold equal blame. Simplicity, behind a strong, capable back, can solve some of those issues.
Mendenhall is an elite back in his prime. He will make a lot of splash plays and score his fair share of touchdowns. The Steelers must keep his carries under 300, and it certainly is possible with Redman in the mix. Fantasy owners might not be pleased, but Isaac needs the ball when the offense has the goal line in their sites.
2. Ben Roethlisberger Will Pass for 4,500 Yards in 2011
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The honeymoon is over; it is time to get back to work
If Roethlisberger would have played all 16 games last year, his yardage total projected to be 4,200 yards. He enters the 2011 season with a full training camp, will have a full preseason, a veteran offense and playmakers to his right, left and behind him.
Barring injury, 2011 will be the first season in Big Ben's career in which he will exceed the 4,500 yard mark.
Mike Wallace is a star and will get Roethlisberger 33 percent of the that 4,500 total.
If healthy, Emmanuel Sanders should be ready to take the next step as a NFL wide receiver. Sophomore years for talented wide outs tend to be quite good.
Hines Ward, despite his age and injuries, will somehow chunk up a lot of yards. When Roethlisberger extends the play, he has incredible chemistry with a roaming Ward.
Antonio Brown and Heath Miller should combine for 1,500 yards.
The biggest question mark (like any other year) is the offensive line. Keeping with the bold prediction theme, the offensive line will not be a problem. In fact, if the Steelers do not have a successful season, the offensive line will not be the blame
Maurkice Pouncey, who is healthy, is already an elite anchor who could make the Pro Bowl for the next ten years.
Jonathon Scott seems to be the most worrisome issue on the line. This is ridiculous. Scott is not an elite lineman, but he was the Steelers' best lineman during their playoff run. He will get the job done.
All of the dots are in place, and Big Ben is ready to connect them on his way to 4,500 yards.
Roethlisberger has a long list of NFL accomplishments and NFL records. At 29 years old, he is ready to take the next step as an elite player. It is a quarterback driven league, and the Steelers have a pretty good one behind their wheel.
1. Steelers Will Win the AFC North by More Games Than Any Other Division Winners
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This has a lot to do with the rest of the league as much as it does with the Steelers.
The AFC East features two monsters that will battle for the division title all season long.
The AFC West is as unpredictable as they come, but one team will not emerge to run away with the division.
A dream team in the NFC East is the Steelers biggest competition in terms of winning their division by the most games. The Cowboys, Redskins and Giants are much tougher opponents than the Bengals, Ravens and Browns, though.
The most exciting division might be the NFC North. An argument for all four teams winning it can be made right now.
Down south, three potential playoff teams will battle it out.
Lastly, the NFC West winner might not even be .500 again, so it is impossible for them to win the division by more than a game or two.
The Cincinnati Bengals might finish the season with the worst record in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns have a good, young nucleus, but the departure of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan might be a fatal one.
The Baltimore Ravens were hit by the cap hard. Terrance Cody is not ready to be a starter in front of that fierce linebacker core. Derrick Mason, despite his age, made the offense well rounded. Ray Rice will be asked to handle the majority of the offensive load. Joe Flacco is not a quarterback that is capable of winning games on his own. The 2011 Ravens will plummet out of the AFC's elite. Ricky Williams does not put this team in the playoffs.
Another Super Bowl appearance for the Steelers is still a long shot. Once January is flipped on the calender, the Pats, Jets, Colts and a few others will make the path to Super Bowl Sunday a tough one. This prediction has nothing to do with what happens in the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will win their division, though, and win it by at least three games. Bold? Absolutely. A reality? Well, it is time to bookmark this article and revisit it at the end of the season.
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