Many fans do not expect much from the Steelers this season after an 8-8 finish last season.
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the start up Cincinnati Bengals have gotten all the attention in the AFC North.
Fans even think Cleveland might surprise and improve this season.
But as Lee Corso used to say, “Not so fast my friend."
Pittsburgh is still led by one of the best head coaches in the league, Mike Tomlin, who has yet to have a losing season as Steelers head coach in six years.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is entering his second season calling plays for the team. Familiarity with his system should help the offense as a whole, which will again try to revert back to the old Steeler way of power running.
Much of the reason why the running game failed in the Steel city last year does not fall on Haley, but on the ineffectiveness of the running backs. Pittsburgh averaged just 96 yards on the ground with a three back rotation.
Despite an ailing knee in preseason, rookie Le’Veon Bell looks to be the starting running back in 2013. RB LaRod Stephens-Howling impressed in the first preseason game and Jonathan Dwyer came into camp twenty pounds lighter than he did last year.
But again this team, like most in the NFL, will go as far as Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can take them. Up until his rib injury, Big Ben was having an MVP type season in 2012. If the young and highly improved offensive line can keep Roethlisberger on his feet, him and an aging defense that can still get in done will take Pittsburgh to the playoffs.
Week 1: September 8th vs. Tennessee Titans
As far as opening games go, this one seems to be one of the easier games on the schedule. The Titans don’t bring much firepower on offense and RB Chris Johnson has averaged just 60.4 rushing yards in his five games against Pittsburgh.
Week 2: Setember 16th at Cincinnati Bengals
Pittsburgh’s only Monday night game comes in Week 2 against hated Cincinnati. At this point, the Pirates will be competing with the Reds for the NL Central division title, which will make the fans extra anger. Steelers have lost just once at Paul Brown Stadium in the last decade. Pittsburgh upsets their division rival in a close one.
Week 3: September 22nd vs. Chicago Bears
A matchup against two stout, but aging defensives that love sacking the quarterback, and two offensive lines that have trouble protecting him. Pittsburgh’s offensive line makes the difference in this one.
Week 4: September 29nd at Minnesota Vikings (London)
Big Ben plays in front of Big Ben and the football fan base in London. If only one runner is going to break out against the Steelers defense this season, it will be Adrian Peterson. But Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz scheme is too much for Christian Ponder, and Pittsburgh is 4-0 for the first time since 1979. What happened that year again?
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: October 13th at New York Jets
Coming off the bye, Mike Tomlin does not let his team lose focus in a road game against the lowly Jets. No matter who’s playing, the defense will pound Mark Sanchez or confuse Geno Smith.
Week 7: October 20th vs. Baltimore Ravens
After back-to-back big offensive games, the Steelers will return home to face the archrival Ravens. No matter how each team is doing, it will be a slugfest. Since 1999, this series has resulted in a season sweep only four times (two for each team). Pittsburgh will beat Baltimore once in 2013, and it will probably be at home.
Week 8: October 27th at Oakland Raiders
Oakland might only win two games this season, but they could still beat the Steelers. It’s happened before; in 2006, Pittsburgh lost in Oakland, who finished 2-14. With a fast, unexpected start in 2013, the Steelers could underestimate the Raiders. The black and gold are 1-3 against the silver and black since 2005 (not exactly great seasons for Oakland) and have not won at the Coliseum since 1995.
Week 9: November 3rd at New England Patriots
After a tough loss in Oakland, the Steelers will look to bounce back in New England, but this is exactly the team they wouldn’t want to see. Roethlisberger has only beaten Tom Brady twice in nine years. The Steelers linebackers will have to get to the QB early and often, but Brady keeps the defense off balance.
Week 10: November 10th vs. Buffalo Bills
Pittsburgh returns home to play another inept offense, and after taking a slight beating in New England, the defense responses in a big way.
LeBeau defenses since 2004 are 13-1 against rookie quarterbacks and do not think Kevin Kolb will be any better.
Week 11: November 17th vs. Detroit Lions
This is a tough game against one of the NFL’s best passers. Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks will have difficulty covering Megatron (just like everyone else does) and Stafford will throw for 300 yards.
But the Steelers' offense will be in midseason form under Haley, and Pittsburgh pulls out a barnburner.
Week 12: November 24th at Cleveland Browns
The Browns look to be improved this season, but as long as Pittsburgh avoids a turnover-plagued game like last year in Cleveland, the Steelers still have too much talent for this team. Look for the Joe Thomas vs. rookie Jarvis Jones matchup to play a key role in the game.
Week 13: November 28th at Baltimore Ravens
As mentioned before, it’s very difficult to predict either of these teams sweeping each other this season. Pittsburgh has had more success in Baltimore lately, but it’s still a very tough place to play. Fighting for their playoff lives, Baltimore will bring the heat and get to Roethlisberger a few times.
Week 14: December 8th vs. Miami Dolphins
Wide receiver Mike Wallace makes his first return to Heinz Field as the upstart Dolphins hope to be in playoff contention. Whether it is for the playoffs or not, this one is personal with the way Wallace acted and played in 2012. Tomlin and CB Ike Taylor would love to win this one; the fans would love it even more.
Week 15: December 15th vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Similar to the Ravens’ series, it is tough to pick the Steelers to top the Bengals twice in 2013. Quarterback Andy Dalton has shown he can play well against this defense, but when the season was on the line last December, he threw two interceptions against Pittsburgh. His best chance is to win this game at home.
Week 16: December 22nd at Green Bay Packers
This is Pittsburgh’s toughest game on the schedule especially with the matchup coming on the first day of winter. The game could very easily come down to the weather, and both teams could have rookie starting running backs rushing in the snow. Not much slows down quarterback Aaron Rodgers though, and Pittsburgh will have to wait for their revenge of Super Bowl XLV.
Week 17: December 29th vs. Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh closes the season at home against Cleveland. It looks to be a meaningful game for the Steelers and probably a throw away for the Browns. This could be Pittsburgh’s first blow out in a few weeks as the team tries for their 10th, 11th, or maybe even 12th win.
Steelers 30-7; finishes 11-5, wins the AFC North, third in the AFC
Anything short of another playoff berth for Pittsburgh may not be a surprise for other NFL fans, but it will still be a disappointment for Steeler Nation.