Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Predictions: Outcomes for All 16 Regular Season Games

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IAugust 17, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Predictions: Outcomes for All 16 Regular Season Games

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers begin the 2011 season seeking a return to the Super Bowl. The problem for them is that recent history has been quite unkind to Super Bowl losers. Rarely do they even make the playoffs.

    Perhaps, however, that loss could be their greatest strength this year. The Steelers are excellent underdogs and are in the ultimate underdog position now. But every season is different. This season is filled with must win games and trap games.

    Here's a look at each game and what the outcome could be.

Week 1: Pittsburgh at Baltimore

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    This is going to be a defensive struggle. The Steelers have the better defense at this point. They have more and better playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary (we're going to assume Ike Taylor is ready for the regular season). They have a history of dropping Joe Flacco when they most need a big play.

    They also have recent history on their side. The Steelers simply do not lose to Baltimore when Ben Roethlisberger plays. Unless something serious changes between now and September 11th, Roethlisberger will be in uniform.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    The Ravens receivers could be trouble. Lee Evans is fast and has great hands. Anquan Boldin is a good possession guy as long as he's got someone else opposite him to take some of the heat off. The Steelers didn't do so hot in the Super Bowl on defense, so they'll need to make sure Flacco doesn't pick them apart. The good news is that Todd Heap is gone. They likely won't have anyone over the middle.

    Baltimore is at home. In a rivalry in which the blood is this bad, that has the potential to be important. It's not so much the fans as the psychological effect of being in enemy territory. Still, the Steelers usually can tune out the distractions. That will be important here.

    Final Score

    Pittsburgh pulls out a typically close game 21-17 as Rashard Mendenhall gets loose for a late touchdown. Look for Lamarr Woodley to have a big game here as he tees off on Joe Flacco.

Week 2: Pittsburgh vs. Seattle

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    Seattle has a very weak secondary. The Steelers, with a full stable of receivers (we're going to assume Emmanuel Sanders is back by now), should be able to exploit this all day. Ben Roethlisberger will likely have a big passing day here if Bruce Arians' three receiver sets frustrate Seattle's weakened defensive backfield.

    Seattle also has a questionable offense. Tarvaris Jackson is somehow being billed as a starting quarterback after nothing but struggle and failure. There are no marquee receivers and the running backs, while good, aren't likely to have a big day against the league's top run defense.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    There aren't many. This is a bad mismatch. The only real disadvantage is that this is a classic trap game—one that the Steelers should win handily as long as they don't take Seattle lightly. The team has been caught before by these types of games (see the five-game losing streak in 2009), so it could happen again.

    Final Score

    The Steelers don't get trapped here and win big, 34-9, as Jeff Reed provides Seattle's only offense by kicking three field goals. This should be a big day for Big Ben and could easily be a day in which he tops 300 passing yards.

Week 3: Pittsburgh at Indianapolis

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    This is a tight one. The offenses, despite the perceived disparity at quarterback (there really isn't much of one anymore), are very evenly matched except for the fact that Pittsburgh has a functional running game. Joseph Addai and his backfield mates just don't inspire fear in any opponent, especially a team like Pittsburgh which has one of the league's best running games.

    The Steelers receivers match up well against the Colts' secondary as well. Mike Wallace's speed trumps a lot of opponents and the Colts, while having talent in their secondary, don't blow anyone away back there.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    Peyton Manning. The guy is tough to beat, especially at home. He's going to be the first real test for the Pittsburgh secondary. He's elite. He doesn't make mistakes very often. He's got good receivers. He's, well, a lot like the guy who beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

    The Steelers are evenly matched almost everywhere. That's never good for either team. You want to have a big advantage on each side of the ball that you can exploit. That doesn't exist. Even Rashard Mendenhall could be neutralized if the Colts' defensive front steps up and tests the offensive line.

    Final Score

    This is going to be close. I'm going to say that the Steelers move to 3-0 in a 31-28 shootout because Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman will do just enough to run out the clock when it counts. That razor-thin advantage will pay off. This should be another big day for Big Ben.

Week 4: Pittsburgh at Houston

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    The Steelers have only lost once to the Texans. That was in 2002. History is a good barometer sometimes. The Steelers usually dominate Houston. They've had good luck against their defense and that defense continues to be a question mark. New coordinator Wade Phillips is good, but until they come out and shut people down, they'll have to wait for respect.

    The Steelers have the better quarterback when it comes to making plays, but it's a thin advantage over Matt Schaub, who can fill up a stat sheet with eye-popping numbers. Still, in a battle between just the two quarterbacks, you have to go with the proven guy. Experience counts. Pittsburgh has that advantage basically all over the field.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    Schaub has good receivers and a good tight end that can make plays. He's also got a dynamic backfield with Arian Foster and Steve Slaton. Both of those guys can catch too, so you can't sleep on anyone. The only questionable piece of their offense is the line, but it's been much better than in years past.

    The only other real disadvantage is that trap game mentality we mentioned before. It strikes at least once every year for every team.

    Final Score

    I'm going to go against the conventional wisdom and say that this is the first loss. Schaub can overpower the defense the same way that Aaron Rodgers did in the Super Bowl, and I say he does just enough here to win 27-20 by forcing the Steelers to play catch up after halftime.

Week 5: Pittsburgh vs. Tennessee

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    This is another game in which the Steelers hold almost all of the cards. The Titans offense, despite the addition of Matt Hasselbeck, is underwhelming at best. They don't have any major receiving targets and their biggest strength, running back Chris Johnson, plays right into the defense's hands.

    In addition, the Tennessee defense is undermanned. This showed when Charlie Batch lit them up last fall and could be ever worse if Ben Roethlisberger really gets going with his receivers. They don't defend the run well, so I get the feeling this could be a big game for Rashard Mendenhall.

    DIsadvantages for Pittsburgh

    Trap game. But it bit them the week before in this prediction, and the Steelers rarely get caught twice in a row. Other than that, this is another should-win game for the Steelers.

    Final Score

    Pittsburgh avenges its first loss on Tennessee with a 24-10 drubbing in which the defense really shines against a likely-to-struggle offense.

Week 6: Pittsburgh vs. Jacksonville

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    Offense. The Steelers have the better offensive team at every position except maybe running back. Maurice Jones-Drew is good, but he's one man. The Steelers have a plethora of receivers. The Jaguars have a good tight end and a lot of maybes. David Garrard is okay, but he's no Ben Roethlisberger.

    The Steelers also have the better defensive front, which should help them contain Jones-Drew. Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison are one of, if not, the best tandem in the NFL at linebacker, and the Steelers have one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the league.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    The Jaguars have a good secondary that can cause problems for any quarterback. The big question is going to be whether or not they have the guys to cover all of Roethlisberger's potential targets. That will help decide this game.

    The Jaguars also have some good history on their side. The Steelers routinely struggle with their former AFC Central rivals and usually only win by thin margins. That kind of game leaves a lot to chance. Sometimes, chance favors the team that's not favored in the spread.

    Final Score

    I don't see it. The Steelers are just too good on offense, and the Jaguars are just too undermanned. This won't be a laugher (history has to play some part, right?), but it won't be too scary.

    Let's give it to Pittsburgh by a score of 24-13.

Week 7: Pittsburgh at Arizona

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    Last year, this would have been a very, very long list. Topping it still is experience.

    Kevin Kolb has a handful of starts, and there's no guarantee that he'll be the savior or the next Kurt Warner or anything of the sort. They have only one proven receiver on offense and a decent tight end who's had some injury concerns. They also have no running back. That points to the Steelers having a heavy advantage offensively.

    The Steelers have a better defense and this is one of the rare teams where the Steelers can also boast of having a better secondary. Adrian Wilson is the only truly scary piece back there, so the key will simply be to stay away from him. It will be interesting to see what effect Ray Horton, their new coordinator, has on the defense's performance.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    If I had to pick one receiver to go to battle with, it would be Larry Fitzgerald. The guy is scary good. Now that he's got something that might be a quarterback with him, he could go back to being among the most dangerous players in the league. I'm taking any good receiver against our secondary until they prove themselves again.

    The Cardinals don't really have many other advantages, but you never know when they'll show up. They came close to beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, so they've got some tricks up their sleeve.

    Final Score

    I'm actually going to give the Steelers a heavy advantage here. They have a habit of really killing young quarterbacks, and Fitzgerald is only one man. This one devolves into a laugher as Pittsburgh wins 31-10.

Week 8: Pittsburgh vs. New England

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    For once, this is a thin field. The Steelers probably have a better defense overall, but the Patriots have found ways to get to them before. I would, however, say that if anyone can terrorize Tom Brady, it should be Lamarr Woodley, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    Tom Brady. He terrorizes the Steelers almost every single time he plays them. Ben Roethlisberger has had some duds against the Patriots too. New England always seems to somehow outfox the Steelers, and it probably has something to do with the guy in the hoodie having their number.

    There aren't a lot of one-on-one mismatches, but the Patriots have the "win as a team" thing down pat (pun intended!) and use it to beat even the league's best. They also rise to the occasion better than almost anyone.

    Final Score

    I'm no fan of the Patriots, but until the Steelers give Brady a thumping (try blitzing him right up the middle and it might just work), I can't seriously pick them to win. I'm going to say this one is closer than a lot of people expect, but New England still triumphs 34-21.

Week 9: Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore

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    We've been over this before, so I won't cover it in depth again. The big change here is that the Steelers are now the home team. They rarely lose to a division rival at Heinz Field.

    Final Score

    They aren't going to start here. They'll be ready after losing to New England, and they'll give Baltimore another tight defeat by a score of 21-20 as the defense holds Joe Flacco and the Ravens out of field goal range on a last-minute drive.

Week 10: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    Where to begin? The Bengals are starting a rookie quarterback behind a so-so offensive line and with an unproven squad a receivers and an on again, off again running back. That's not a recipe for success. Their biggest offensive acquisition was tight end Bo Scaife, who may not even start.

    Their defense looks a shade better than last year, which isn't saying much since they were among the worst in the league on that side of the ball last season. They've lost their best corner, and their linebackers are a collection of potential stars and fading veterans.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    Not much. The worst thing about this game if you're a Steelers fan is that it's in Cincinnati, where the Steelers have had some struggles even in the Bengals' lean years. I'm not saying it will crop up now, but you never know.

    Final Score

    This is going to get ugly. This will be a huge day for the defense as they harass Andy Dalton into four interceptions, two of which go for scores in a 41-12 blowout.

Week 12: Pittsburgh at Kansas City

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    They're better almost everywhere but not by as much as you'd think. They have a better offense, but the Chiefs are catching up, especially if you believe in Jonathan Baldwin at wide receiver. They also have a better defense thanks to a better front seven than Kansas City can field at this point.

    The Steelers are the veteran team here, and we've always held that experience counts for something when matchups are pretty tight. That's the case here, so experience could play a big part in who wins this game.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    Arrowhead Stadium is a house of horrors for the Steelers. They've always played the Chiefs close, and sometimes, they just don't have enough to finish them off. The Chiefs are also likely to be playing with the need to prove themselves. Determined teams are bad news for anyone because they are the teams that will do whatever it takes to claim victory.

    Final Score

    If this game were in Pittsburgh, I'd pick the Steelers. They aren't good in Arrowhead and will be coming off their bye, which could mean they're a little bit rusty.

    It'll be close, but they'll lose 16-13 in overtime on a long field goal.

Week 13: Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati

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    We've already touched on the advantages and disadvantages here. The Bengals will have to come to Pittsburgh, always a rough proposition but even more difficult with a team that lacks in almost every department.

    Final Score

    This one will be ugly too as the defense claims its first shutout of the season, 35-0, as Ben Roethlisberger has a huge day passing, and Rashard Mendenhall tops 1,000 yards on the season with his best game of the year so far.

Week 14: Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    Experience at every position and in the coaching ranks. The Steelers are a veteran team that will be facing off against a young and improving division rival. These are the types of games that are more important for the Browns, who will be trying to prove themselves in what will likely be another losing season.

    Among the many positional advantages is the fact that the Steelers have the best receiving corps in the entire division while the Browns have arguably the thinnest. Their biggest weapon, Joshua Cribbs, is better as a return man and gadget player.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    The Steelers don't have much to worry about except that they will likely be trumped in motivation. The Browns haven't beaten the Steelers handily in years and rarely even come close. They've played them closer the past couple of years, but they'll be looking for some credibility here while the Steelers will likely be looking ahead to the playoffs.

    Final Score

    The Steelers will win a closer than expected game against their longtime rivals by a score of 27-17. The game will be decided on the ground, where Rashard Mendenhall has his best day against one of the league's worst rush defenses.

Week 15: Pittsburgh at San Francisco

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    The 49ers have no quarterback and could be starting rookie Colin Kaepernick instead of longtime starter Alex Smith. Running back Frank Gore is a question mark. The team's best and most proven receiver is tight end Vernon Davis, so there's not a lot of need for double coverage either.

    The 49ers boast a decent defense, but they've lost some players in free agency and won't be able to show as better than the Pittsburgh defense, which seems poised for a big year once again. Special teams, which we haven't really mentioned all year, aren't a big area of strength for either team, but the Steelers have the better kicker and punter.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    West coast trips are always hard on teams from the east. The one benefit is that this will be a late game instead of an early game. That jet lag could hurt the Steelers just as easily as anyone else, but they'll have a long layoff after a Thursday game against the Browns.

    Final Score

    Pittsburgh should wrap up the division here by beating San Francisco 34-12. The Steelers will get a big day from their defense against Kaepernick, who I do expect to be starting by this point. I'd say Troy Polamalu will have an interception returned for a score.

Week 16: Pittsburgh vs. St. Louis

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    Advantages for Pittsburgh

    The Steelers' old friend experience is back. They've got the edge there at virtually every spot on the roster and on the coaching staff. They also boast the better player at each position, especially at receiver. St. Louis is thin there and it could pose trouble for Sam Bradford.

    The Steelers have the better offensive matchup as well, going against a weak secondary with one of the best groups of receivers in the league. The Steelers are also traditionally very, very good against NFC opponents and are almost flawless against the NFC West.

    Disadvantages for Pittsburgh

    It's going to be a very short week for the Steelers as they would have played on Monday across the country and would have to play again on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh. That's a brutal thing to do to any team.

    Also, the Steelers figure to be only working on seeding at this point and probably will be in the mix already for a bye week. St. Louis figures to be playing for a division title still, so they'll have more motivation to win.

    Final Score

    I'm going to give the Steelers a loss here. That's a tough turnaround for anyone, and they aren't facing a chump team either. The Rams have a good squad and might get the best of a tired Pittsburgh team. We'll make it close and say that the score is going to be 17-14.

Week 17: Pittsburgh at Cleveland

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    We've covered the advantages and disadvantages, so let's bring the regular season home with a bang.

    Final Score

    Pittsburgh wraps up their bye week and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a 24-17 win in Cleveland. Byron Leftwich will replace Ben Roethlisberger early as Big Ben wraps up a 4,000-yard season with an early touchdown pass.

    Leftwich will perform well for the rest of the game as Isaac Redman has his first 100-yard game for the Steelers.

Final Tally

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    2011 Regular Season Record

    12-4, first Place in AFC North, second Seed in AFC Playoffs

    Pro Bowl Performers

    Ben Roethlisberger (32 touchdown passes and over 4,000 yards) 

    Lamarr Woodley (11.5 sacks, three interceptions)

    Troy Polamalu (five interceptions, one for a touchdown)

    James Harrison (9.5 sacks, two interceptions)

    Rashard Mendenhall (1,250 yards, 11 touchdowns)

    Mike Wallace (1,375 yards, 12 touchdown receptions)