Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 NFL Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info, Analysis

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IApril 18, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 NFL Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info, Analysis

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers now know exactly who they'll be facing and when in 2012. There are some great matchups coming this year, some that look too easy right now and also the usual suspects from within the division on the 2012 slate.

    The Steelers will have five prime-time games this season, including two top matchups between the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens. Those should be some of the most compelling games of the season for both teams.

    Here's a game-by-game look at the schedule along with some very premature predictions.

Week 1: Pittsburgh vs. Denver

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, September 9th, 8:20pm, NBC

    The Matchup

    This could be the game of the year for the Steelers (outside of their Baltimore series). There are so many story lines in this game that will get to be told.

    Peyton Manning in a new uniform. He has history against the Steelers, although it isn’t particularly flattering to him. The Broncos swept Pittsburgh out of the playoffs last year in a stunning overtime victory. The Steelers will be hungry to avenge that.

    Denver will be trying to prove contender status against a top team. They have some of the pieces, but there’s so much more to be told. Also, it will be interesting to see how John Fox adapts to having a true franchise passer for the first time in his head coaching career (unless you want to count Jake Delhomme).

    This could be one of the best games of the season in the whole league schedule. It will be must-see television.

    Prediction

    Pittsburgh 28, Denver 24

Week 2: New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, September 16th, 4:15pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    The Jets do currently have the last quarterback to beat the Steelers in the playoffs and the last quarterback they beat in the playoffs. It's unclear what role Tim Tebow will play for the Jets. For Mark Sanchez, this is going to be another chance for him to knock off a team that he's struggled with badly.

    The Jets will have the receivers to cause trouble with the Steelers secondary and the threat of Tebow's special packages. They don't, however, have a scary running game with or without Shonn Greene. That could hurt them as the pass rush tees off on Sanchez.

    Offensively, this is going to be difficult. The Steelers have a good, balanced offense on paper. The Jets can counter either great pass coverage and run coverage as well. The best bet for victory would be to use tight end Heath Miller and third receiver Emmanuel Sanders to break up any double coverages.

    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh 16, New York 13 (OT)

Week 3: Pittsburgh vs. Oakland

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, September 23rd, 4:15pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    The Raiders will go with a different coach yet again, proving that Al Davis really isn’t gone. His ghost remains. How that effects this team is anyone’s guess until they take some snaps together. Right now, we’ll say the jury is out.

    Going off of last year, the Raiders don’t present a difficult match for the Steelers. Carson Palmer has had success against Pittsburgh, but his inability to maintain accuracy over a full game will get him in trouble with former college teammate Troy Polamalu, who has owned Palmer.

    Offensively, the Steelers should have no problems with a Raiders defense that once again seems to be getting worse as players depart and age. Passing should be a better bet in this game, although the running game shouldn’t be too bad either.

    Prediction

    Pittsburgh 31, Oakland 16

Week 5: Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, October 7th, 1:00pm, FOX

    The Matchup

    As the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers engage in their own "battle of Pennsylvania," it's time to look at this matchup, not nearly as frequent, in the upcoming NFL season.

    The Eagles had an up and down 2011 and ended up missing the playoffs. They've so far retained a lot of the same people and staff, so its unclear if they'll be any better. Any plan to stop the Eagles starts with Michael Vick. The Steelers are usually good against mobile quarterbacks and Vick's accuracy is questionable.

    Offensively, the Steelers will likely use a pass-heavy game against the Eagles, who didn't get the production they would've liked out of their "Dream Team" defensive backfield. They're better against the run, so establishing the pass early and often will be a good way to come out on top.

    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh 27, Philadelphia 20

Week 6: Pittsbugh vs. Tennessee

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    Time and Network

    Thursday, October 11th, 8:20pm, NFL

    The Matchup

    This is one of the more underrated rivalries in the league. Until it ceased being a divisional matchup, this was a twice-a-year slugfest for these teams. There’s some interesting history too if you remember that the Titans were once the Houston Oilers.

    Now, the Titans are a team that seems to be reeling a bit from their pursuit of Peyton Manning.  The best guess is that Jake Locker will get this team all season now. He showed enough last year. Chris Johnson should have a full offseason of preparation to get himself on track for a big year.

    The Steelers will counter with Ben Roethlisberger, who’s been very good against the Titans, and a running game that could pose trouble for a soft front seven. The Titans were nearly a playoff team in 2011 and could be in the mix in 2012 as well. This won’t be an easy game.

    The Prediction

    Pittsburgh 16, Tennessee 10

Week 7: Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, October 21st, 8:20pm, NBC

    The Matchup

    Going to Cincinnati used to be like going to Cleveland for the Steelers. Tons of their fans would show up, they would thrattle the “Bungles” and head back home victorious and happy.

    Unfortunately, the Bengals aren’t a divisional doormat anymore. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have given them a legitimate set of successors to the turbulent Carson Palmer/Chad Ochocinco tandem. Green is particularly troublesome for the Steelers as he can do the same thing Antonio Brown does: shred a defensive game plan.

    The Steelers should be able to move the ball in the air, but their ground attack, usually a better bet against the Bengals, may just be grounded as the Bengals continue to improve in that department. Ben Roethlisberger will have to win the day. Possession receiving will be essential (Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller are the guys to watch there).

    Prediction

    Pittsburgh 17, Bengals 14

Week 8: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, October 28th, 1pm, FOX

    The Matchup

    The Steelers and Redskins aren’t often pitted against each other, so there is a very disjointed history between the two teams. The Redskins will be an interesting team to watch in 2012, however, because they will likely be fielding a rookie quarterback.

    Let’s go ahead and assume that they’ll end up with Robert Griffin III. His dynamic skills could be problematic for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh usually makes life rough on young passers. The fact that Washington’s offensive problems go much deeper means that this should be a long day.

    Offensively, the Steelers will look to exploit a weak secondary by using their outside speed at receiver. They will also use Isaac Redman to bulldoze through a relatively soft defensive front.

    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh 31, Washington 7

Week 9: Pittsburgh vs. New York Giants

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, November 4th, 4:15pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    The Steelers will get both Mannings this season thanks to Peyton’s move to Denver. Younger brother Eli just led the Giants to the Super Bowl and victory over New England. Facing a defending champion is always a tricky proposition.

    The Giants return most of their core from last season’s run. They are notoriously inconsistent during the regular season, however. Manning will have the benefit of throwing to the excellent Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks during the game, however. That duo poses a big matchup problem for Pittsburgh. Ike Taylor figures to draw Cruz, leaving the other starter on the elusive Nicks.

    Offensively, the Giants pass rush should be rough on the Pittsburgh offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger will need to be extra elusive on this day. The best bet is to pound the running game and play ball control if possible, but that’s not an easy job against that defense.

    Prediction

    New York 24, Pittsburgh 14

Week 10: Kansas City vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Monday, November 12th, 8:30pm, ESPN

    The Matchup

    Todd Haley will get his first crack at beating his old team here. The Chiefs were badly damaged last year, but should return mostly healthy in 2012. There are, however, some questions to be answered.

    Matt Cassel will be back as the quarterback, but how safe is his job? It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs take a quarterback in the draft as a project. Their running game should return at full power and with a deeper backfield than before. Peyton Hillis could be a problem with his bruising style if the Steelers don't repair their run defense.

    Offensively, the Steelers should be able to exploit the Chiefs, but they struggled with this last season. The key will be getting Isaac Redman going and then using the play action pass to draw the defense out of position. They do not have the speed in Kansas City to pursue Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown deep. 

    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh 23, Kansas City 12

Week 11: Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, November 18th, 8:20pm, NBC

    The Matchup

    The Baltimore game is always a must-see event for Steelers fans. This is Pittsburgh's most bitter rivalry and it's always intense when it comes to Pittsburgh for the annual game.

    Baltimore has been quietly and steadily improving and return their key offensive and defensive players. It remains to be seen how they'll improve in the draft, but it is safe to say that Joe Flacco will attempt to use Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin against what right now seems to be an overmatched secondary.

    Offensively, the Steelers would be wise to counter with a more run-heavy offense. They'll need to test Ray Lewis at his age, although that's never a good proposition. Still, the Ravens likely will be best beaten by keeping their offense on the benches. Ball control should be key.

    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 19

Week 12: Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, November 25th, 1pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    Going to Cleveland is usually like a vacation for the Steelers. The Browns traditionally do not do well against Pittsburgh when they’re in town. It must be psychological, but part of it is also that the Steelers bring a lot of fans up to Cleveland with them, making this like a ninth home game for the road team.

    Offensively, the Steelers will exploit Cleveland’s front seven and their relative inexperience and youth. They can pose a problem with the pass rush, but the Steelers will attempt to shore up their offensive line in the draft and hope for a healthy season.

    Defensively, the Steelers will have to get after Colt McCoy and company. Cleveland actually projects worse on offense, their only real weapon still being Joshua Cribbs. This could be ugly.

    Prediction

    Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 12

Week 13: Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, December 2nd, 4:15pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    Going to Baltimore is a challenge for any team, but the Steelers will be trying to forget their last trip south to play the Ravens. They were crushed 35-7 by a motivated team.

    That isn’t likely to be repeated. The two teams have a penchant for close, vicious games. Blowouts are about as likely as a sudden ice age. They just don’t happen.

    On offense, Pittsburgh will be best served to control the ball and keep Joe Flacco off the field. This isn’t because the Ravens offense is prolific, but the Steelers secondary isn’t and they struggled against Torrey Smith last season.

    Defensively, keying on Ray Rice is important. Stopping him forces Flacco to win the game for Baltimore, something he isn’t always good at doing. Many think this rivalry is turning against the Steelers, but I’d say it’s more likely the teams will start splitting their season series more often.

    Prediction

    Baltimore 13, Pittsburgh 10 (OT)

Week 14: San Diego vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, December 9th, 1pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    The Steelers and Chargers have had some interesting matchups despite not playing each other regularly. The two teams match up quite well together each season because they do so many things the same way.

    The Chargers are facing down a do or die season for Norv Turner. Last year’s setback cannot be repeated if Turner is to continue as coach. That will make them a hungry team all season long. The offense looks to be dynamic as Ryan Mathews continues to grow as a back and as the team continues to build a dynamic group of receivers.

    The Steelers will look to jump on the San Diego defense, but they have a good front rush that should be able to contain the Steelers running game and might make for a long day for Ben Roethlisberger. If there’s a game on the home slate that Pittsburgh will have the most trouble with, this is it. 

    Prediction:

    San Diego 17, Pittsburgh 12

Week 15: Pittsburgh vs. Dallas

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, December 16th, 4:15pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    This is one of the league’s oldest and fiercest Super Bowl rivalries. Cowboys fans and Steelers fans don’t like each other and, while the on-field rivalry has long since lost steam after Dallas has fallen into the also ran category, this is still a top matchup when it comes to ratings.

    The Steelers have the more consistent team, but Dallas is improving and fields a talented offense. This game could develop into a shootout thanks to that. The defenses, particularly against the pass, don’t figure to be too successful.

    The guys to watch in this game are Emmanuel Sanders for Pittsburgh and Jason Witten for Dallas. They will be key. The top receivers for both squads figure to make big plays, but it will be essential for the backup guys to also get involved. They might just decide this game.

    Prediction

    Pittsburgh 38, Dallas 31

Week 16: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, December 23rd, 1pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    The Bengals served notice on the AFC North last season that they aren't the same bunglers that couldn't beat anyone in recent seasons (save for the infrequent jump back into contention).

    Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will once again be important and new runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis will also be a key as the Steelers will need to prove that they have gotten young enough to once again be a top run defense.

    Ben Roethlisberger should be able to pick on the corners again unless the Bengals can prove that they can stop guys like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown (we'll assume Wallace is playing for now). Having Jerricho Cotchery will be key too. He was a big part of the offense against the Bengals in 2011.

    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 16

Week 17: Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh

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    Time and Network

    Sunday, December 30th, 1pm, CBS

    The Matchup

    The Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh games, despite records, are always must see television in both cities and beyond. Cleveland's best chance of getting prime-time slots is to play Pittsburgh, their most bitter rival.

    For the Steelers, Cleveland still doesn't look to hold much competition. Until we see how the Browns improve offensively in the draft, we're left with Colt McCoy and an undermanned line versus a pass rush that is vicious.

    Offensively, the Steelers project very well against a young Cleveland front. The key will be protecting in the running game and passing game better than last season, where Ben Roethlisberger was injured while rolling away from pressure.

    It's hard to imagine Cleveland topping Pittsburgh when the Steelers are at home, although those games have traditionally been the better of the two matches.

    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh 19, Cleveland 13

Final Thoughts

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    The Steelers will once again likely be in play for the division title and a deep playoff run, but they have to continue to retool their roster and put themselves in a good position to be successful.

    The keys to the season are Stevenson Sylvester replacing James Farrior effectively and the offensive line remaining healthy and improving. If those two things come to pass, the Steelers should be able to win a lot of games.

    I’ve handed the Steelers three losses, all against reasonably comparable teams and all of them in tight situations. The Steelers do not get blown out much and I expect their scoring percentage to improve under new coordinator Todd Haley.

    While the running game is a concern because of the lack of experience, I don’t think it’ll be a weakness. I think it will actually be a strength.

    My favorite matches this year have to be the rivalry games (with Dallas, Oakland and Baltimore) as well as the game against Denver because it will be a treat to see how the two teams handle all of the stories that will stem from that matchup.

    Here’s to a great season, another AFC North crown and a deep playoff run as one of the top two seeds.