Not many franchises can go 12-4 in a season and feel like they left money on the table. But when you are the Pittsburgh Steelers you only measure success by one thing: championships.
The Steelers went 12-4 last season but can’t help feeling like they underachieved just a bit in their quest to make back-to-back Super Bowls. They were plus-98 in scoring differential (No. 7 in the league) and had the NFL’s top defense. But they were done in by a horrendous -13 turnovers margin and another year of poor red zone performance.
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The Steelers have slowly and subtly turned over their roster over the past four years, never fully rebuilding but making enough changes to stay fresh, talented and ahead of the curve. Very few organizations can accomplish that delicate task and still remain competitive year-in and year-out – but this one does.
However, Pittsburgh is a little vulnerable this season as they continue to restock their roster while attacking the rest of the league. There is a lot of youth and inexperience along the offense while some critical parts of their defense have started to wear down with age.
Here are some 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers predictions:
It is difficult to criticize a unit that finished in the Top 10 in passing and Top 12 in total offense. But while the Steelers moved the ball well enough last year they weren’t able to convert that into enough points. Pittsburgh finished in the bottom half of the league in red zone offense last year and, as a result, they were No. 21 in the league in scoring.
They made a rather bold move this offseason in jettisoning offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after five years and bringing in ousted Kansas City Coach Todd Haley to fill the position. Ben Roethlisberger was vocal in his support for Arians and how he adjusts to Haley’s approach (both in terms of scheme and attitude) will be a main subplot for this unit.
The other key issue for the Steelers is getting improved offensive line production from a unit that has been among the league’s worst the past three years. Pittsburgh could end up starting two rookies (Mike Adams and David DeCastro), a second-year guy with 13 career starts (Marcus Gilbert) and a third-year player (Maurkice Pouncey) coming back from injury. This could be the least experienced line in the NFL and it is crucial that they both protect Big Ben and get improved play in the running game.
Pittsburgh made its name behind great defense and a ferocious running game. But they haven’t finished in the Top 10 in rushing in the last four years. Top back Rashard Mendenhall is just six months removed from ACL surgery and the Steelers need to find a lead back (or two) if they are going to regain their ground-and-pound form.
When last we saw the Steelers defense Tim Tebow was roasting them for 29 points. It was an unceremonious end to the year for the No. 1 stop unit in football and I’m sure that performance has haunted these pros all offseason.
The Steelers are still nasty on this side of the ball. They retain their patented 3-4 attack and they still have the core of the group that has been dominating opponents for the better part of a decade. There are some slight cracks in the foundation. But I would be surprised if we don’t get another Top 5 or Top 10 effort from this group this season.
Pro Bowl nose tackle and defensive fulcrum Casey Hampton is still recovering from ACL surgery and the Steelers will try to replace him with three unproven young players: Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta’amu and Ziggy Hood.
Also, there will be a lot of competition for playing time in the defensive backfield. William Gay is gone and there is no clear replacement at one cornerback spot. And aging Troy Polamalu, while still great, is no longer a 16-game player anymore. Depth at both safety and corner are important for this side.
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis
By the numbers, the Steelers have a pretty middling schedule. Their strength of schedule based on 2011 records is just No. 14 and their six quality opponents (teams with nine or more wins last year) is also middle of the road.
The Steelers open against Peyton Manning and Denver in a rematch of last year’s Wild Card loss. Then they get to bang heads with the Jets in Pittsburgh’s home opener before a trip out to Oakland, where the Steelers never seem to play well. Pittsburgh gets an early bye week and then has an in-state rivalry clash with Philadelphia. Having two weeks to prepare will be key.
Things lighten up a bit for the Steelers after that tricky opening. They play three of their next four on the road (including a trip to New York to face the Giants) but they should be favored in three of those games. They have to take on rival Baltimore twice in three weeks between Nov. 18 and Dec. 2 and then Pittsburgh closes the year with three of four games at home (San Diego, at Dallas, Cincinnati and Cleveland).
On the whole I wouldn’t say that this is an easy schedule. But I wouldn’t say that it is overwhelmingly difficult either. My projections have them with 11 wins, barely.
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Futures Odds
At +115 the Steelers are virtually co-favorites with Baltimore (+110) to win the AFC North. Pittsburgh is currently listed at +650 to win the AFC and +1650 to win the Super Bowl, according to 5Dim es. Their season win total is set at 10.5 with the books giving +130 for “over” bettors.
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Predictions
The Steelers and Ravens are still virtually a coin flip for this division and both teams are still comfortably ahead of the Bengals and Browns in the AFC North. Pittsburgh is rebuilding a bit and they have lost a lot of proven veteran leaders from the roster over the last two seasons. But this group is still as talented and as tough as any in football.
Pittsburgh needs to reclaim its identity a bit and I would like to see Haley revert this group back to a smash-mouth offense that is predicated on running the ball. That said, with an extraordinarily green offensive line and no proven running backs, that will be a tall order.
Pittsburgh has been in a predictable pattern since 2000: make the playoffs two years in a row and then miss the postseason the next. They have played in January the past two seasons, so if form holds they are due for a letdown this winter. But I don’t think that will happen. I think Pittsburgh will find its way into the postseason for the ninth time in 12 years (and the 15th time in the last 22 seasons) and again be a Super Bowl contender.
Robert Ferringo is a professional NFL handicapper and has posted back-to-back profitable seasons (college and pro). Robert has turned a profit in three of four football seasons and over the last nine months his clients have earned nearly $10,000 in profit with his football selections. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here. Also, you can also get $60 worth of free Robert Ferringo member picks (no salesman, no credit card, no obligation!) by clicking here for more info.