View Full Version : Look for the Steelers to rule the North

09-03-2008, 11:38 PM
Look for the Steelers to rule the North

http://www.observer-reporter.com/OR/Sto ... eelers-tab (http://www.observer-reporter.com/OR/Story/08---Column-for-Steelers-tab)

After rolling out of the gate to a 7-2 record last year, the Steelers faltered down the stretch, losing five of their final eight games including a playoff loss to Jacksonville.

Many have looked at that finish, the Steelers' schedule this year - the toughest in the NFL - and all the money Cleveland spent in the offseason and said this will be the Browns' year to finish ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

I'm not buying it.

Until the Browns can actually beat the Steelers - something they have done just once in the past 16 meetings - they won't win the division.

The Steelers just have Cleveland's number.

And despite that daunting schedule - one that includes games against NFC contenders Philadelphia, Dallas and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, and AFC powerhouses New England, Indianapolis, San Diego and Jacksonville - the Steelers should still manage 10 wins.

The games against the Giants, Colts, Chargers and Cowboys will be played at Heinz Field, where the Steelers were 7-1 in the regular season last year. The Steelers should be able to win at least two of those four games on their home turf and go 6-2, meaning they need to play .500 on the rod to get to 10 wins.

Meanwhile, while everyone in Western Pennsylvania was crying about the Steelers' schedule, they failed to notice the other AFC North teams are in the same situation.

Baltimore's schedule ranks as the fourth-most difficult in the league, while Cincinnati and Cleveland are tied for seventh.

Nobody in the division is going to have an easy time.

Of course, strength of schedule also relies on records from the previous season. And, as we've seen time and again, that means nothing the following year.

Three of the past six Super Bowl champions - including the Steelers in 2006 - missed the playoffs the following season.

Injuries also always play a factor.

Already in the preseason we've seen the Giants lose star defensive end Osi Umenyiora for the season to a knee injury, Indianapolis lose center Jeff Saturday for six weeks, and San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman visit doctor after doctor trying to find one that thinks it's a good idea for him to play with two torn knee ligaments. No doctor would give Merriman the passing grade he wanted, but he's playing with the bad knee anyway.

The Steelers dealt with injuries as much as any team in 2007, losing defensive end Aaron Smith, safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, left tackle Marvel Smith and running back Willie Parker for extended periods.

There's eight Pro Bowl appearances between those players and yet the Steelers still managed to make the playoffs.

Which brings me to the biggest reason why the Steelers won't falter in 2008 - quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger proved in 2007 that he's a franchise quarterback, setting team records for touchdown passes (32) and quarterback rating (104.1).

At 26, he's reached the point where he's talked about as one of the league's best quarterbacks - not on the same level as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning - but right below them.

And when you have a franchise quarterback, you've always got a chance to win.

It's something the Steelers did not have in the '90s, when they consistently knocked on the door of greatness but couldn't kick it in despite a solid running game and outstanding defense.

The Steelers still have a

stifling defense and solid running game. But they also have Roethlisberger throwing the ball to Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller - three very solid receivers.

The only area that is truly not championship quality is the offensive line. But with the weapons Roethlisberger has at his disposal, the offensive line should be good enough to win most weeks.

Ten victories and another division championship should be within reach. What the Steelers do beyond that depends on matchups and a little luck.

F. Dale Lolley can be reached at dlolley@observer-reporter.com

09-03-2008, 11:58 PM
Good article...I think the Browns will end up imploding both offensively and defensively...

thanks for posting the articles fordfixer!

09-04-2008, 12:07 AM
Good article...I think the Browns will end up imploding both offensively and defensively...

thanks for posting the articles fordfixer!

I think they will most certainly implode on defense with that terrible situation at CB (young inexperienced starters with no appreciable depth behind them) and although their new d-line acquisitions Rogers and Williams are talented players, both must adjust to playing in a 3-4 defense, which is not an easy philosophical shift for d-linemen to make when they are used to just rushing the passer without worrying as much about gap responsibilities and occupying multiple blockers to allow the LB's behind you to make the plays and take the glory.

I don't think that their offense will necessarily implode, but I can't see Anderson coming close to 29 TD's again.