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Predicting each game of the Steelers’ 2018 season

Let the real games begin.

Not that there isn’t value in NFL preseason games. After all, if you watched the Steelers’ 39-24 win over the Panthers in Thursday’s preseason finale, you saw Shawn Hochuli, son of retired referee Ed Hochuli, officiating the game. You can rest assured knowing that even though Ed Hochuli’s theatrics are a thing of the past, there still will be a Hochuli wearing stripes in 2018.

But how will the Steelers do in 2018? It’s time once again for everyone’s favorite game, the Win-Loss-Win-Loss game.

This Steelers blog predicted a 12-4 record, a No. 2 seed and a four-point divisional-round loss at this time last year.

Ignore the rest of this article at your own risk.

Week 1

Sept. 9: at Cleveland

This is not a guaranteed win. Remember the Steelers beat the 0-16 Browns by just three points in Week 1 last year. This will be the first time Ben Roethlisberger and Myles Garrett play in the same game, and that should concern Steelers fans. Last year’s top overall draft pick looks ready to make a big leap this season. But Roethlisberger and the Steelers will escape the Dawg Pound with a hard-earned win.

Steelers, 10-6 (1-0)

Week 2

Sept. 16: Kansas City

It’s no secret that the Steelers will have to get past the Patriots and probably the Jaguars if they want to get to the Super Bowl. Well, the Steelers have been just as much of a hurdle for the Chiefs as those teams have been for the Steelers. The Steelers beat the Chiefs 18-16 in the 2016 playoffs and handed them their first loss at Kansas City last year, 19-13. Is Patrick Mahomes the answer? Well, not in this game.

Steelers, 17-14 (2-0)

Week 3

Sept. 24: at Tampa Bay

The Buccaneers won’t have Jameis Winston, who’s suspended for three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s biggest strength is looking like Jason Sudeikis. This situation seems ripe for one of the Steelers’ trademark losses to an inferior opponent, but those losses don’t tend to happen on Monday Night Football. The Steelers win a franchise-record seventh straight Monday-night game.

Steelers, 38-7 (3-0)

Week 4

Sept. 30: Baltimore

In this scenario, the Steelers are 3-0 for the first time since 2010, and just like 2010 they win at Tampa Bay in Week 3 and host the Ravens in Week 4. The Ravens foiled the Steelers’ first 4-0 start since 1979 with a 17-14 win at Heinz Field in 2010. Not this time. The Steelers’ defense will go through growing pains in a post-Ryan Shazier world, but Michael Crabtree and John Brown won’t scare their improved secondary on Sunday Night Football.

Steelers, 23-17 (4-0)

Week 5

Oct. 7: Atlanta

The Steelers are allowing only 11 points per game at this point, but they haven’t faced a quarterback like Matt Ryan. The Steelers won 27-20 at Atlanta in 2014, but Julio Jones sat out that game with an injury. Assuming Jones is healthy in Week 5 this year, Ryan will beat Ben Roethlisberger in a shootout and the Falcons will beat the Steelers for just the third time in their history and the first time in Pittsburgh.

Falcons, 39-36 (4-1)

Week 6

Oct. 14: at Cincinnati

The Steelers are 21-5 at Cincinnati since Bill Cowher became head coach in 1992. That record would be 19-7 if the Bengals hadn’t shot themselves in the foot in Week 13 last year on Monday Night Football and in the 2015 wild-card game. As long as Joey Porter doesn’t bait a Bengal into a 15-yard penalty and Le’Veon Bell isn’t allowed to walk into the end zone after the Bengals assume he’s out of bounds, the Bengals take this one.

Bengals, 26-20 (4-2)

Week 8

Oct. 28: Cleveland

Pittsburgh’s 446 bridges are full of distraught Steelers fans during the bye week after the Steelers lose two in a row. By the end of this year, Myles Garrett will have been in Ben Roethlisberger’s face enough for the two of them to develop a Warren Sapp-Brett Favre kind of friendship. But the Browns won’t quite be ready to beat the Steelers this year. The bridges will again be open to traffic after this game.

Steelers, 30-15 (5-2)

Week 9

Nov. 4: at Baltimore

The Steelers haven’t won two straight at Baltimore since 2001 and 2002. It won’t happen here. The Steelers won 26-9 last year at Baltimore, but the Ravens played in London the week before and stupidly requested that they don’t have a bye following their overseas trip. They’ll be better rested this year and still have Terrell Suggs, Tony Jefferson, Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley, and Matt Judon is a name you’ll be hearing a lot more this season.

Ravens, 24-21 (5-3)

Week 10

Nov. 8: Carolina

This will be the Steelers’ obligatory Monday-Thursday turnaround. While it’s reasonable geographically, a trip to Baltimore followed by a home game, it’s brutal considering the opponents. The Steelers face the NFC South this year, a division that sent three teams to the playoffs and could again this year. This will be another interconference Heinz Field shootout, but this time Ben Roethlisberger edges Cam Newton.

Steelers, 37-33 (6-3)

Week 11

Nov. 18: at Jacksonville

This Sunday Night Football game will be circled on the calendar. It will help that the Steelers will be coming off their mini-bye while the Jaguars will be coming off a trip to Indianapolis where they presumably will have faced Andrew Luck. That’s something they didn’t have to worry about when winning the AFC South last year. They won’t catch that break this year and (mini-spoiler alert) they won’t return to the playoffs.

Steelers, 25-22 (7-3)

Week 12

Nov. 25: at Denver

An emotional win at Jacksonville will drain the Steelers, who go from a Sunday-night game to the thin air of Denver. Even if it’s just Case Keenum and not Peyton Manning or (ahem) Tim Tebow quarterbacking the Broncos, the Steelers fall short here. Remember they caught a lot of breaks in going 13-3 last year. Seven of those wins came by six points or less. In this scenario, we see what happens when not all those games go the Steelers’ way.

Broncos, 31-28 (7-4)

Week 13

Dec. 2: Los Angeles Chargers

In 2012, the Steelers won at Baltimore to improve to 7-5, then lost three of their last four and missed the playoffs. One of those losses came at home against the Chargers. Is this a case of deja vu? Knocking off a nemesis on the road and then a collapse? The Chargers won six of their last seven in 2017 and can build on that momentum this year. Philip Rivers is at the controls of an offense that could overwhelm the Steelers’ defense.

Chargers, 27-19 (7-5)

Week 14

Dec. 9: at Oakland

The Steelers are fighting for their playoff lives at 7-5 and face a trip to Oakland, a home game against the Patriots and a trip to New Orleans before finishing at home against the Bengals. This would be an “L” if it weren’t for Jon Gruden’s stupidity. He gave up a third-round pick for Martavis Bryant. He gave the Steelers Ryan Switzer for almost nothing. And he won’t pay Khalil Mack. Gruden might want to hang on to his microphone.

Steelers, 33-13 (8-5)

Week 15

Dec. 16: New England

One day shy of the first anniversary of the Jesse James Game, the Patriots return to Heinz Field. Our analysis of this game can be summed up in four words: Who are we kidding? The Patriots will beat the Steelers again and the only question is which Steeler will have a rule named after him this year. Last year’s loss to the Patriots cost the Steelers home-field advantage in the playoffs. This one could cost them a playoff berth.

Patriots, 27-26 (8-6)

Week 16

Dec. 23: at New Orleans

If the Saints are as good as advertised, the Steelers need a difficult win in The Big Easy to keep their playoff hopes alive. And that’s just what they get. It’s their first win in New Orleans since 1990. These teams combined for 69 points in 2006 (38-31 Steelers at Pittsburgh) and 67 points in 2014 (35-32 Saints at Pittsburgh). They’ll hit 70 here as Ben Roethlisberger out-duels Drew Brees for the first time in 12 years.

Steelers, 38-32 (9-6)

Week 17

Dec. 30: Cincinnati

The Steelers will need this win to make the playoffs. The Ravens seem like a 9-7 team, so losing this game could drag the Steelers into tiebreaker hell. It won’t happen. The Steelers win the AFC North for the third straight year, the first time they’ve ever won three straight AFC North titles. That’s right. The last time they won three straight division titles was 1995-1997 when they were in the AFC Central.

Steelers, 42-17 (10-6)

PLAYOFFS

Wild-card

Tennessee

A 10-6 record will earn the Steelers the No. 3 seed, and a matchup with the sixth-seeded Titans. After such a bumpy ride in the regular season, the Steelers won’t be supplying anyone with bulletin-board material in the playoffs. Mike Vrabel, meanwhile, leads the Titans to second place in the AFC South. But their season will end at Heinz Field.

Steelers, 24-10

Divisional round

at Los Angeles

The Steelers travel to Los Angeles to face the second-seeded Chargers. It’s their first trip to Los Angeles since 1994. It’ll be their fourth playoff game against the Chargers, but the first one on the road.

Philip Rivers would love to get a Super Bowl ring like 2004 draftmates Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. His career statistics almost mirror Roethlisberger’s. According to Pro Football Reference, Rivers’ career passer rating is 94.8. Roethlisberger’s is 94.0. Rivers has thrown for 50,348 yards. Roethlisberger has thrown for 51,065. Rivers’ career completion percentage is 64.2. Roethlisberger’s is 64.1. Rivers has thrown 342 touchdown passes, 13 more than Roethlisberger, and 166 interceptions, eight less than Roethlisberger.

But Roethlisberger wins more. He’s 135-63 in his career and 13-8 in the playoffs. Rivers is 106-86 and 4-5 in the playoffs.

Rivers’ ring, if he ever gets one, won’t come this year.

Steelers, 34-27

AFC championship game

Kansas City

Alex Smith is no longer a Chief, which means Kansas City will be able to win more than one playoff game and get to the AFC title game for the first time in 25 years. The fifth-seeded Chiefs upset the No. 4 Texans in the wild-card, then stun the top-seeded Patriots, giving the Steelers an unexpected home game for the AFC championship. Just like 2005 and 2010, the Steelers can’t beat the Patriots in the regular season but another team does their dirty work by taking out the Patriots and the Steelers show their gratitude by beating them and going to the Super Bowl.

Steelers, 24-13

Super Bowl LIII

Philadelphia

The Vikings are a popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but Kirk Cousins has never won a playoff game. The Saints are another contender, but Drew Brees will be 40 by the time the NFC championship game is played. The Rams (like the Jaguars) are building a perennial playoff team, but will take a step back this season after last year’s quantum leap.

Despite being the defending champs, the Eagles are flying under the radar because of their quarterback uncertainty, but they’ll be fine once they get Carson Wentz back.

For the Steelers, it’s a long road back to the Super Bowl. Since losing 31-25 to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, they’ve suffered the Tim Tebow indignity, two straight non-playoff seasons and a painstaking three-year climb where they made it one round closer to the Super Bowl every year only to tumble backward in 2017 with a divisional loss to Jacksonville.

They’re back in the Super Bowl after an eight-year absence, second only to the Patriots with nine Super Bowl appearances. However, the long road back to the Super Bowl doesn’t end with the Super Bowl. There’s still this matter of winning it, and in this prediction for the 2018 season, the Steelers allow 350 points in the regular season. They get to the Super Bowl the way everyone figured they would, with their offense carrying the defense. They’ll struggle against top-tier and elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Cam Newton. Wentz vaults into that category this year and, yes, wins his second Super Bowl ring. This time, he wins it on the field.

The Eagles’ 41-33 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII was the second-highest scoring Super Bowl. The 49ers and Chargers combined for 75 points in Super Bowl XXIX. The Steelers and Eagles break the record this year and the final score will painfully parallel the Steelers’ Super Bowl loss eight years ago.

Maybe Mike Tomlin and Bill Belichick will have a beer and commiserate over losing to the Eagles in the Super Bowl.

Eagles, 41-35

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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