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Predicting each game of the Steelers’ 2017 season

The Steelers already are entering the 2017 season with high hopes, and what we saw on Thursday night did nothing to diminish those expectations. We caught a glimpse of an AFC landscape in which the Patriots aren’t invincible.

Now that the countdown to the Steelers’ season opener can be measured in hours and not days or weeks, it’s time to take a look at each game and predict a win or a loss.

In other words, it’s time for The Win-Loss Game.

The consensus has been a lot more wins than losses for the Steelers in 2017, and a few more wins in January. But there are a few “ifs.”

The Steelers’ offense will be just about unstoppable if Martavis Bryant can stay clean. The defense will be better if Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and T.J. Watt turn out to be good draft picks and if Ryan Shazier can stay healthy.

Some unexpected holes forced the Steelers to acquire cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Vance McDonald and safety J.J. Wilcox in last-minute moves.

The Steelers are sure to face other unforeseen hurdles in their quest to win their seventh Super Bowl, but at least they didn’t have the top overall pick in the draft and use that pick on a player who will miss the first few weeks of the season with a high-ankle sprain.

And that brings us to …

Week 1: at Cleveland

Myles Garrett will have to wait a little while before he can “chop down” Ben Roethlisberger as he vowed to do after the Browns took him with the No. 1 pick in the draft. DeShone Kizer, however, will make his debut. The Steelers didn’t fare well against rookie quarterbacks last year. Unless Kizer is another Dak Prescott or Carson Wentz, however, the Steelers should have little trouble in their season opener. Look for a pick-six from Joe Haden in his revenge game.

Steelers, 27-14 (1-0)

Week 2: Minnesota

The Steelers go from facing a rookie quarterback in Week 1 to Sam Bradford in Week 2. It won’t always be this easy. In general, the opposing quarterbacks will get tougher and tougher as the season goes on.

Steelers, 31-23 (2-0)

Week 3: at Chicago

It was Week 3 when Carson Wentz and the Eagles shredded the Steelers last season. Mitchell Trubisky probably won’t be starting by Week 3, so the Steelers should improve their all-time record at Chicago to 2-11 against Mike Glennon.

Steelers, 19-17 (3-0)

Week 4: at Baltimore

The Steelers go to Baltimore after their first 3-0 start since 2010. It was the Ravens who foiled their first 4-0 start since 1979 with a 17-14 win in Week 4. Jeremy Maclin is now paired with a quarterback who knows how to throw the ball down the field. That spells trouble for the Steelers.

Ravens, 17-16 (3-1)

Week 5: Jacksonville

The Jaguars’ defense could surprise some people this season, and they keep this game close. Let’s not forget that Blaine Gabbert and the 5-11 Jaguars came within a Hail Mary of beating the Steelers at Pittsburgh in 2011.

Steelers, 16-13 (4-1)

Week 6: at Kansas City

In the divisional playoffs at Kansas City in January, Chris Boswell kicked six field goals and the Steelers won. This year, he’ll kick seven field goals and they’ll lose. Or maybe the Steelers will just score three touchdowns.

Chiefs, 23-21 (4-2)

Week 7: Cincinnati

Marvin Lewis is entering his 15th season as the Bengals’ head coach. Yes, you read that right.

Steelers, 35-17 (5-2)

Week 8: at Detroit

From Joe Flacco to Blake Bortles to Alex Smith to Andy Dalton to Matthew Stafford. Even if the Steelers’ defense starts to fulfill its potential by this point in the season, it will have its hands full. This will just be the Steelers’ fifth trip to Detroit since Chuck Noll was hired. They’re 2-2 in the previous four with both losses coming on Thanksgiving. This will be two days before Halloween. Fans will be treated to a Sunday-night shootout.

Steelers, 43-38 (6-2)

Week 10: at Indianapolis

The Steelers will come off their bye week and face the Colts for the third straight season. In three of their last four games against them, they’ve faced Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst and Scott Tolzien. Andrew Luck could miss a few games to start the season, but chances are he’ll be back in time to face the Steelers for the second time in his career. The Steelers won 51-34 at Heinz Field the previous time in 2014. Get ready for another shootout.

Steelers, 41-35, OT (7-2)

Week 11: Tennessee

If Marcus Mariota proves that all the offseason hype was warranted, this will be no reprieve for the Steelers’ defense after facing Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck. But the offense will score 40 for the third straight week on Thursday Night Football. It’s a short week for the Steelers, but they play just two more road games the rest of the season.

Steelers, 41-21 (8-2)

Week 12: Green Bay

We’ll see just how much this defense has grown when Aaron Rodgers comes to Heinz Field for a Sunday-night game. The Packers won at Pittsburgh in each of Chuck Noll’s first two seasons as Steelers coach. They’ve lost all four of their games in Pittsburgh since then, but they won’t lose this one. Including Super Bowl XLV, these teams have averaged a combined 66 points in their last three meetings.

Packers, 35-31 (8-3)

Week 13: At Cincinnati

The Steelers return to AFC North play for a couple of weeks and get a semi-breather in terms of opposing quarterbacks. This is the fourth straight year the Steelers visit Cincinnati in December. Steelers wins at Cincinnati have become just as much a part of December as egg nog and reindeer.

Steelers, 13-9 (9-3)

Week 14: Baltimore

The Steelers eliminated the Ravens from playoff contention in Week 16 last year. This win might do the job in 2017.

Steelers, 24-21 (10-3)

Week 15: New England

Unless what happened on Thursday night is the first sign of a decline, Tom Brady will be the final exam for the Steelers’ defense, at least for the regular season. The No. 1 seed in the AFC could be at stake here. The last time the Steelers beat the Patriots was the last time LaMarr Woodley had two sacks in a game. That’s how long it’s been. Once again, the Steelers will probably have to win at New England in January to get to the Super Bowl.

Patriots, 27-21 (10-4)

Week 16: at Houston

Santa Claus will deliver sacks of toys to children all over the world, and the Watt brothers will be reunited on Christmas Day. Speaking of sacks, it might be too much to ask T.J. Watt to have as many sacks this season as his big brother, J.J. Watt. But it’s realistic to expect T.J. Watt to match in his rookie season the six sacks that another J.J., Jarvis Jones, had in his entire career. The Steelers might need this game to clinch a first-round bye. They’ll have to grind out a win against this defense.

Steelers, 16-10 (11-4)

Week 17: Cleveland

Hopefully, the Steelers won’t need to win this game and we see lots of Landry Jones and James Conner. That would mean Myles Garrett might have to hope Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t retire before he gets his chance to chop him down.

Steelers, 24-7 (12-4)

Playoffs

Divisional round: Oakland

We’re going to take a stroll down Narrative Street here to create more text so it’s harder for the eye to look down and take a peek at the result.

First, the non-spoiler stuff. The Steelers finish 12-4 for the first time since 2011 and get a first-round bye in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. In this scenario, they get the No. 2 seed and host the third-seeded Raiders in the divisional round. Despite wins over both the Patriots and Steelers, the Chiefs have to settle for the No. 5 seed because the Raiders win the AFC West.

Starting with the Immaculate Reception, the Steelers and Raiders faced each other in the playoffs six times in a 12-year period, but this will be their first postseason meeting since 1983.

Let’s face it. Steelers fans are spoiled. The Steelers have had a lot of success but also a lot of breaks. The biggest break of them all was the aforementioned Immaculate Reception. It’s been 45 years since Franco Harris scooped up the ball and scored the game-winning touchdown against the Raiders to give the Steelers their first-ever playoff win, and it can be argued that the Steelers have had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl in at least 30 of those seasons. This is one of those seasons.

Fueling the optimism is the fact that the Steelers have advanced one round further in the playoffs in each of the last three years. There’s also a sense that as long as Ben Roethlisberger is around it’s only a matter of time before the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl. They haven’t made it in seven years, but that still gets overshadowed by the three Super Bowl appearances they made in Roethlisberger’s first seven seasons. Among the breaks they’ve had this century is that other teams have taken care of the Patriots every year they’ve made the Super Bowl.

Will that happen again this year? It won’t matter, because the Raiders will take care of the Steelers in the divisional round. The storyline just seems too tidy and too good to be true for the Steelers to go from the wild-card game in 2014 to the divisional round in 2015 to the conference championship last season to finally conquering the Patriots and getting to the Super Bowl this season.

Heck, even the 12-4 regular-season prediction assumes that Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell stay healthy. Those are far from givens.

Ten years ago, the Steelers overcame a 28-10, third-quarter deficit only to fall to the Jaguars 31-29 in a wild-card game at Heinz Field. That Jaguars team was coached by current Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. The Raiders are a team on the rise, and as Roethlisberger again ponders his future, Steelers fans might have to come to grips with the fact that 2005, 2008 and 2010 was as good as things will get during the Roethlisberger Era.

Raiders, 28-24

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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