Obviously 2009 was a disappointment for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the reigning Super Bowl champs’ season seemed to go off track right in Week 1 when star safety Troy Polamalu got injured. He was never the same the rest of the season the few times he did play, and the Pittsburgh defense wasn’t the same, either. The Steelers were still good against the run, but not so much against the pass, and that unit couldn’t hold a lot of fourth-quarter leads. Thus Polamalu’s return to health is a huge key this year.
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Pittsburgh’s five-game losing streak last season was the longest slide for a reigning Super Bowl winner since the 1987 Giants. It was the Steelers’ longest slide in six years.
On offense, Pittsburgh seemed to get away from its roots and became a pass-first team under Ben Roethlisberger – the Steelers ranked ninth in the NFL in passing but just 19th in rushing. Usually those numbers are reversed at least. There was one good sign, however, as Rashard Mendenhall took over for a past-his-prime Willie Parker and ended up rushing for 1,108 yards and seven TDs. He is the unquestioned No. 1 guy now and Pittsburgh vows to get back to a more ball-control offense.
And really the Steelers don’t have much choice to run more, at least in the first four games of the season. Roethlisberger is suspended at least that long for his infamous off-the-field exploits this offseason, and WR Santonio Holmes was traded to the Jets. Byron Leftwich, brought back for a late-round pick from the Bucs, is the likely starter with Big Ben out. Really only Parker and Holmes are the big departures from last year’s team, although arguably the best offensive lineman, Willie Colon, is out for the season due to an injury. There are still 20 starters back from the team that won the Super Bowl not too long ago in Tampa.
WagerWeb lists Pittsburgh’s ‘over/under’ for NFL season win totals at 8.5. Let’s break down the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers schedule:
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at New Orleans, 8:20 PM
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 8, at Cincinnati, 8:30 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, New England, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Oakland, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Baltimore, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, NY Jets, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 23, Carolina, 8:20 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
This is ranked as the 21st-toughest schedule in the NFL, with an opponents’ 2009 winning percentage of .492 (126-130). There are seven games against playoff teams.
It’s not too often that a team’s season can ride on the opener, but it just might with Pittsburgh. If the Steelers lose at home to Atlanta without Big Ben – the Falcons are actually two-point road favorites – then any confidence the team might have in Leftwich might totally vanish. Win that game and the Steelers should be at worst an acceptable 2-2 at the bye when they can regroup and work Big Ben back into the flow. Lose it and it’s probably 1-3 and a major hole to get out of.
Certainly Pittsburgh should handle Cleveland out of the bye with no problems considering Pittsburgh has won 18 of 20 in the series. That Miami game also will be crucial because three games with 2009 playoff teams follow and the Steelers may not be favored in any of them. The Steelers did win in Miami in Week 17 last year.
Following that Pats game comes the make-or-break stretch of the season. Pittsburgh should be on a two-game winning streak heading into yet another prime-time game against the Ravens. Following that expected brutal affair the Steelers don’t leave home for nearly a month, although all three opponents should be pretty good. And with the new rule that teams will play division foes in Week 17, the Steelers couldn’t have asked for a better matchup: the Browns, who did beat Pittsburgh in Cleveland last year for the first time since 2000.
Pittsburgh is +250 on WagerWeb to win the AFC North, but that division is the Ravens’ to lose. I would go ‘over’ the win total as this looks like a 9-7 team, which might not be enough to get back to the playoffs. But if the Steelers lose that opener, the ‘under’ looks like a lock.
Allen Eastman is back with his 99 System for NFL picks in 2010 and before he even came across this system he was considered one of the best NFL handicappers in the business – now he is just unstoppable. Last season the 99 System was 27-13 ATS and this system not only helped his clients make a boatload of money, but also helped Eastman to third place in the prestigious Las Vegas Hilton NFL Contest.