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Predictions (and quirky facts) for each 2016 Steelers game

It’s been almost eight months since Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble cost the Steelers a chance to go to New England for the AFC championship game.

After his team came within three minutes of beating the eventual Super Bowl champs without Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and full use of Ben Roethlisberger’s right arm, Mike Tomlin was upbeat. In the immediate aftermath of that excruciating 23-16 playoff loss at Denver, Tomlin was looking forward to scouting and preparing for the draft.

It’s been an offseason full of optimism for the Steelers, and now the countdown to the season can be measured in hours rather than months, weeks and days. So let’s predict the outcome of each game on the Steelers’ 2016 schedule (with a few “Did You Know”s sprinkled in) as well as playoff games if they get there.

Week 1

at Redskins (Sept. 12, 7 p.m.)

The Steelers open the season on Monday Night Football. The last time they won a prime-time road game to open the season was 1999, when they beat the Browns 43-0 in the Browns’ first game as a reborn franchise. They’re 0-3 in prime time Week 1 road games since then.

L, 31-27 (0-1)

Week 2

Bengals (Sept. 18, 1 p.m.)

The Bengals play on the road in four of their first six games. It wouldn’t be surprising if they lost in Week 1 at the Jets. The Bengals are home against the Broncos and Dolphins (on Thursday) in weeks 3 and 4 then go to Dallas and New England. If the Bengals go to Heinz Field 0-1, the Steelers will have a chance to put them in a real hole.

W, 19-13 (1-1)

Week 3

at Eagles (Sept. 25, 4:25 p.m.)

The Steelers haven’t won at Philadelphia in 51 years. The last time they beat the Eagles on the road, the game was played at Franklin Field in 1965. Since then the Steelers have lost eight straight in Philly. There is one area where history is likely to be on the Steelers’ side. Dick LeBeau was 19-2 against rookie quarterbacks as Steelers defensive coordinator. The last victim, oddly enough, was Zach Mettenberger. Keith Butler figures to get his first shot at a rookie quarterback when the Steelers defense goes up against Carson Wentz.

W, 27-13 (2-1)

Week 4

Chiefs (Oct. 2, 8:30 p.m.)

The Steelers face Andy Reid a week after facing Reid’s former team. The Chiefs defense is no joke and this Sunday Night Football game could be big when it comes to tiebreakers.

W: 24-23 (3-1)

Week 5

Jets (Oct. 9, 1 p.m.)

The Jets’ schedule is brutal in the first half of the season. They open at home against the Bengals then go to Buffalo on Thursday night and Kansas City. They host the Seahawks in Week 4 then go to Pittsburgh and Arizona before hosting the Ravens and finally getting a reprieve (theoretically) when they visit Cleveland in Week 8. Considering the scoreboard watching the Steelers had to do in Week 17 last year, this is another win that could come in handy when tiebreakers are calculated.

W, 20-17 (4-1)

Week 6

at Dolphins (Oct. 16, 1 p.m.)

Despite all the 30-points-a-game hype, the Steelers break that barrier for the first time in this game. The Dolphins haven’t had a winning season since 2008. They have a new coach in Adam Gase, but Ryan Tannehill is mediocre quarterback. He beat the Steelers at Pittsburgh in 2013, but he’s 29-35 in his career as a starter.

W, 35-14 (5-1)

Week 7

New England (Oct. 23, 4:25 p.m.)

The Steelers are 2-8 against Tom Brady. The last time the Patriots visited Pittsburgh, the Steelers beat Brady and the Patriots 25-17 in 2011. That was kind of a shark-jumping moment for the Steelers, however. That win improved their record to 6-2 and a second straight Super Bowl appearance looked like a real possibility.

But LaMarr Woodley, who had nine sacks in the first eight games, went down with a hamstring injury and had just nine sacks in his remaining two years with the Steelers. The week after beating the Patriots, the Steelers lost at home to the Ravens in the final seconds. That defeat ultimately cost them a first-round bye in the playoffs. They had to go to Denver for a wild-card game, where they infamously were bounced by Tim Tebow. It would be another three years before the Steelers got back to the playoffs.

The Steelers have snapped out of those doldrums with two straight playoff seasons. It would be nice if the Steelers could beat Brady again and get off to their best seven-game start since 2004. But it won’t happen.

L, 38-35 (5-2)

Week 9

at Ravens (Nov. 6, 1 p.m.)

The Steelers and Ravens both have byes in Week 8, so it should be a physical battle between two rested teams. The injury-ravaged Ravens went 5-11 last season but beat the Steelers twice. The Ravens will be better this season but they’re no playoff lock. Too many of their key players are on the wrong side of 30, but for the first time in franchise history they’ll beat the Steelers a fourth straight time.

L, 28-23 (5-3)

Week 10

Cowboys (Nov. 13, 4:25 p.m.)

This will be the Steelers’ only November home game. Considering how injury-prone Tony Romo has become, there’s a chance Dak Prescott will be the second rookie quarterback the Steelers face this season. Whether it’s Romo or Prescott, however, the Steelers’ midseason swoon continues. But, hey, they score more than 30 points again.

L, 38-31 (5-4)

Week 11

at Browns (Nov. 20, 1 p.m.)

The only time the Steelers faced Robert Griffin III, Hurricane Sandy was making its way up the East Coast and the Steelers beat the Redskins 27-12 in the rain at Heinz Field. That was Griffin’s rookie-of-the-year season and the game might have turned out differently if the Redskins hadn’t dropped eight passes. With his ability to run with the ball and sell play-action fakes, watching Griffin was like watching a magician’s shell game. The prospect of having to face Griffin twice a year would have been scary back then. Now, not so much. The Steelers’ losing streak ends here even though the Browns will be coming off a mini-bye after a Thursday-night game at Baltimore.

W, 33-17 (6-4)

Week 12

at Colts (Nov. 24, 8:30 p.m.)

What did the Rooneys do to piss off the computer that makes the NFL schedule? They play on Thanksgiving for the second time in four years, and just like in 2013, they’re the only team that has to play on the road twice in five days with the Monday-Thursday turnaround.

They’ve lost their last four games on the holiday and have a history of Turkey Day infamy. They lost at Baltimore 22-20 in the Mike Tomlin Footgate Game of 2013. They lost the Phil Luckett Coin Flip Game in overtime against the Lions in 1998 and were hammered 45-3 at Detroit in 1983. There also was a nondescript loss at Dallas in 1991. Going hand-in-hand with the Steelers’ troubles on Thanksgiving are their calamities in Thursday games. They’ve lost their last five. The most recent loss came last season when Josh Scobee missed two field goals in the last two and a half minutes, allowing the Ravens to force overtime and eventually win 23-20.

This time, the Steelers game on Thanksgiving will be memorable for the right reasons. Look for Ben Roethlisberger to edge Andrew Luck in a classic shootout as the Steelers win their first Thursday game since 2011 and their first Thanksgiving game since 1950.

W, 42-39 (7-4)

Week 13

Giants (Dec. 4, 4:25 p.m.)

The Steelers play the Giants for the first time since the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Steelers didn’t arrive in New Jersey until the morning of that game. Barring any kind of blizzard, that shouldn’t be a problem this time. Plus, the Steelers are playing at home. The Steelers offense is all we thought it would be at this point in the season as Ben Roethlisberger out-duels Eli Manning.

W, 36-33 (8-4)

Week 14

at Bills (Dec. 11, 1 p.m.)

The Bills handed the Steelers a playoff berth by defeating the Jets in Week 17 last year. The Steelers will express their gratitude by beating the Bills and further endangering Rex Ryan’s job. The Steelers’ three-game slide in the middle of the season will be a distant memory as they pick up their fourth straight win.

W, 24-13 (9-4)

Week 15

at Cincinnati (Dec. 18, 8:30 p.m.)

Ben Roethlisberger is 12-2 in his career at Cincinnati, including playoffs. The Steelers haven’t lost at Cincinnati in December since 2001. But the Bengals take this showdown in a game that essentially decides the AFC North.

L: 21-15 (9-5)

Week 16

Ravens (Dec. 25, 4:30 p.m.)

The Steelers finish the regular season with two games at home, including the first Christmas Day game in franchise history. They beat the Ravens for the first time since 2014, and perhaps even eliminate them from playoff contention.

W, 29-10 (10-5)

Week 17

Browns (Jan. 1, 1 p.m.)

The Browns will be better this season, but by Week 17 they’ll have nothing to play for. The Steelers, on the other hand, will be fighting for a wild-card spot at this point. Hopefully they can win this game and clinch a playoff spot without needing help from anyone else, but two teams (1985 Broncos and 2008 Patriots) have missed the playoffs with 11-5 records. The Steelers won’t become the third.

W, 42-7 (11-5)

PLAYOFFS

Here’s how the AFC playoff seeds will shake out:

1. Bengals; 2. Patriots; 3. Chiefs; 4: Colts; 5, Steelers; 6. Raiders

Wild-card

at Colts

As long as Andrew Luck stays upright, the Colts can win the AFC South with a 9-7 record. Because they’re a division winner, they’ll get to host the 11-5 Steelers. As the No. 5 seed in 2011, the 12-4 Steelers had to visit Denver, where they were Tebowed by the 8-8 Broncos. This time, the Steelers won’t get Lucked.

W, 38-34

Divisional

at Bengals

This is a bitter pill to swallow, but after losing the wild-card game for five straight years, the Bengals figure out a way to avoid a wild-card loss by avoiding the wild-card round with a first-round bye. They win their first playoff game since 1990 and Marvin Lewis wins his first playoff game in eight tries.

The Steelers are being talked about as a legitimate Super Bowl contender for the first time in five years. They have the talent to get there, but there’s just this nagging feeling that all this optimism is setting us up for disappointment.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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