Friday, September 9, 2011

Game-by-game look at the Steelers' 2011 season

By Mike Batista

What's Wink Martindale doing these days?

How about Chuck Woolery?

Or Ben Stein?

Hell, I'd even settle for Rolf Benirschke. That's right, the intestinally challenged former Chargers kicker hosted Wheel of Fortune for a few months in 1989.

I need someone to host this year's version of everyone's favorite game show, the Win-Loss Game, where contestants look at their favorite team's schedule, and predict a win or a loss for each game.

It's like Wheel of Fortune with only "W"s and "L"s, and maybe an occasional "T" if you really got some balls.

The 2011 Steelers schedule is tied for the fourth-weakest in the NFL.

That scares me.

In 2009, the Steelers also were coming off a Super Bowl appearance and had a piece-of-cake schedule on their plate. We all know how that turned out.

And with the exception of the Bengals, it's not like any of those teams in 2009 were better than expected. During the five-game losing streak that blew their season to bits, the Steelers lost to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns, all of whom were as shitty as advertised.

My head tells me the Steelers are a damn good team this year, even if they are the oldest team in the NFL. However, 2009 won't easily be forgotten. Nor will 2006, when they famously flopped after winning Super Bowl XL the year before. I can't help but have those two seasons in the back of my mind as I play the Win-Loss Game this season.*

And now, it's time to play.

Week 1, at Baltimore: This is like waking up to a slap in the face instead of a cup of coffee. This is the Steelers' most intense opener since 2002, when they opened on a Monday night in New England the year after the Patriots upset them in the 2001 AFC championship game. This will go a little bit better, as long as Rashard Mendenhall can avoid all the objects Ravens fans throw at him on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. W, 20-16

Week 2, Seattle:
Tarvaris Jackson is starting at quarterback for the Seahawks. Steelers defense, start your engines. W, 38-7

Week 3, at Indianapolis:
If Peyton Manning plays at all this season, it certainly won't be by Week 3. Still, let's not take this one too lightly. Kerry Collins is a capable backup, and hard-core Steelers fans will remember the name Cody Carlson. W, 20-13

Week 4, at Houston:
Manning possibly being out for the year might be what it takes for the ultimate "Wait 'Til Next Year" team to finally so something in the AFC South and make the playoffs. The Steelers never tempt perfection with long winning streaks to start the season, and I can't help but think that someone will sneak up on the Steelers during this yawn-inspiring Houston-Tennessee-Jacksonville leg of their schedule. Not exactly the most dynamic NFL cities. L, 19-13

Week 5, Tennessee:
Munchak and Hasselbeck. Sounds like some kind of cheesy, early 80s cop-show duo. W, 23-12

Week 6, Jacksonville:
According to ESPN, quarterback David Garrard was released hours after being introduced as the Jaguars' starting quarterback at a chamber of commerce luncheon. Maybe he can tour the country as a Seal impersonator and see if he can hook up with a model like Heidi Klum. W, 28-21

Week 7, at Arizona: Between not getting the Steelers head coaching job and losing to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, Ken Whisenhunt will want to win this game so bad that he'll kick every single one of his players in the balls if they lose. L, 34-17

Week 8, New England:
Tom Brady comes to Heinz Field dressed in drag on Halloween Eve. Then we realize that's really his hair. We also realize that's not a mask Bill Belichick's wearing. That's really his face. Unlike last year's Patriots visit, this one will be a game. Unfortunately, the Patriots will win the shootout. Yeah, I know this is 76 points allowed in the past two games. But the Steelers defense will show its age with a mid-season swoon. L, 42-35

Week 9, Baltimore: Joe Fucko has never beaten the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger plays. W, 14-6

Week 10, at Cincinnati:
Steelers finish up with the Ravens early and get two games each against the Bengals and Browns, and a bye, in the last eight weeks of the season. W, 37-13

Week 11, Bye

Week 12, at Kansas City: The NFL is just busting the Steelers' balls here. They also had a late-November game at Kansas City in 2009, in the midst of their infamous slide. Look for the Chiefs to plateau a bit this year after their rise last year. W, 31-20

Week 13, Cincinnati: Who knows if he'll still be the starter this late in the season, but Andy Dalton is the Bengals' first rookie quarterback to start a season opener since Greg Cook in 1969. I know. Who cares. W, 45-3

Week 14, Cleveland:
Aww, c'mon NFL. Really? A Thursday night game in early December against the Browns? That doesn't remind Steelers fans of anything, does it? At least this one's in Pittsburgh. W, 27-15

Week 15, at San Francisco: Chalk this up as a "haunted by 2009" pick. L, 20-17

Week 16, St. Louis:
Please don't flex this one to a night game, NFL. It's going to be tough enough planning Christmas Eve around a 1 p.m. game. W, 22-9

Week 17, at Cleveland:
I wouldn't be surprised if most of those votes Peyton Hillis got for the Madden cover were cast by Steelers fans so he'd get jinxed. The Browns have their quarterback in Colt McCoy. They'll be better this year, and I just don't see the Steelers going 12-4 again. L, 17-16

Now for the Bonus Round. Or in this case, playoffs.

Here's how I see the AFC playoff picture shaking out:

1. Patriots (13-3)
2. Chargers (12-4)
3. Steelers (11-5)
4. Texans (10-6)
5. Ravens (10-6)
6. Jets (10-6)

Wild-card: Steelers 25, Jets 17; Texans 13, Ravens 7
Divisional: Chargers 16, Steelers 13; Patriots 37, Texans 13
Championship: Patriots 21, Chargers 7

I think the Steelers start to show their age toward the end of the year and get beat in the playoffs by the Chargers. But no way Norv Turner is getting the Chargers into the Super Bowl. So, I regret to inform everyone that the Patriots get back to the Super Bowl.

Since the season's already started in the NFC, I can't really pick records or playoff seeds. Or maybe I'm just too damn lazy. I say the Packers get back to the Super Bowl, not based on Thursday night's game but based on the fact that they got to the Super Bowl last year despite all those injuries. You'd have to think they'll be healthier this year and maybe get a home playoff game or two.

Unlike last year, I'll actually be rooting for the Packers in the Super Bowl. Sure, the Packers were added to my NFL shit list after beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, but the Patriots have earned my unconditional hatred. I'll be quite relieved when the Packers beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Of course, my predictions are usually wrong, and I hope this year is no different.

*-When I was thinking of game-show hosts to mention, one of the names I wanted to use was former Remote Control host Ken Ober. Then I saw that he died at 52 on Nov. 15, 2009. You know what else happened that day? The Steelers lost to the Bengals at home, starting their infamous five-game losing streak. Spooky stuff, huh?

1 comment:

  1. Your regular-season predictions seem reasonable, although (because the AFC West is a weak division), I might put the Chargers as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs this year -- and then collapse in the playoffs once again. I do think the Chargers are going to have amonster season, and the Texans, too. I could also see the Patriots rolling to about a 14-2 record, but also collapsing in the playoffs. The Steelers look strong. They will go to the Super Bowl and win it. Steelers-Packers rematch -- Steelers winning it.