Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers' off season moves into high gear. Could a Super Bowl be in Pittsburgh's future? The city I mean.

The 2012 season has finally come to an agonizing/merciful end for Steeler Nation as the Baltimore Ravens now stand as rulers of the NFL universe. The week has been dominated by two themes. First, the search for meaning concerning what was accomplished during the the 2012 season, and moving on into 2013. There is talk of silver linings, movement of players and coaches and the mock draft season is picking up steam.

The elite AFC North

It was unavoidable that the Super Bowl was the top story of the week. This supposedly presented a dilemma for Steelers fans who would have to choose between rooting for the hated Ravens to win a championship or the 49ers to draw even with the Steelers in terms of Lombardis won. As it turned out for many of us, well at least for me, it wasn't much of a choice at all. It was clear from the time I tuned in that I was rooting for the NIners, though not with a much enthusiasm, but it was a definite bias. I gained some consolation with the knowledge that both fan bases had been tortured by the ups and downs of the game. But as we've had an opportunities for the results to sink in there are some silver linings to seen from the results.

As Chris Mueller points out, the Ravens victory may have salvaged a rivalry that is much celebrated as one of the best in professional sports but has been, objectively, pretty one sided in recent years. The longevity of Ray Lewis' career has disguised the fact that the Ravens last appeared in a Super Bowl before the attacks of September 11th 2001. And their current championship is only the second in the history of the combined franchise (Browns/Ravens) in nearly fifty years. While the Ravens/Steelers matchups rarely disappoint in terms of hard fought intensity, with each side winning its share of games, until the past two seasons the Steelers have almost always won when it counted the most. And even when they didn't Baltimore usually failed to capitalize on the advantage and cash in for a championship.

Mueller notes that this lopsided arrangement has resulted in a sort of sneering 'big brother/ little brother' sense of contempt by Steelers fans directed at the Ravens and their fans, and a corresponding inferiority complex by the Baltimore side.

Over the past decade only one team can claim to be more successful than the Steelers in championship play, the Patriots. But their advantage is not nearly as clear cut and robust as you might expect. The Pats have one more Super Bowl appearance (four to three), but no more championships (tied at two along with the Giants). No other franchise has as many SB appearances as either team in this time frame.

Much has been made by some comparing the regime of Mike Tomlin to that of Bill Cowher. Cowher helmed the team for four years during the decade in question ('03-'06), while Tomlin was in charge for the remaining six years ('07-12). Each coach has missed the playoffs twice in that period (Cowher '03, '06), (Tomlin '09, 12). Each reached the Conference Championship game twice (Cowher 1-1), Tomlin (2-0). Each has one championship.

Expanding the focus, the AFC North is tied with the AFC East for most Super Bowl appearances during the last decade with four and leads in wins 3-2. The NFC East and West are next with three appearances a piece (East leads in wins 2-0). The AFC South, NFC South and NFC North all have made two appearances with identical records of 1-1. Only the AFC West has been shut out of the Super Bowl during this time.

The AFC North has a very strong case for being considered the dominant division in the NFL (the four AFC East SB appearances were by one team), and it appears that the competitive environment within the division is only getting stronger. The Bengals finally overcame their up again, down again pattern by actually managing to make the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Under new ownership, with Steelers ties, Cleveland appears to be working smarter. It remains to be seen if Baltimore can maintain the momentum it has built up over the last two seasons. Dale Lolley mentions that the Ravens face more daunting personnel issues than Pittsburgh including the loss of their leader in Lewis. There is also the matter of managing the Super Bowl hangover as well as the challenges that every other successful NFL team has faced attempting to stay on top in the 21st Century.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the Steelers could realize significant improvement and still face considerable difficulties just getting out of its division. And it will become more and more likely that a successful season will hold the possibility of having to face a division rival three times in a given year.

Super Bowl L in Pittsburgh?

The Trib's Dejan Kovacevic poses this provocative question in an article that makes quite a persuasive case for bringing the NFL Championship to Pittsburgh. With New York breaking the ice as it were with hosting an outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather city and a medium sized northern city (Indianapolis) having already successfully put on the game, there are no major hurdles standing in the way of a Pittsburgh application. The team is currently in a dispute with the city over who would foot the bill for a seating expansion at Heinz that would bring seating capacity in the range of other SB sites. Hombre de acero has a piece that addresses some of the particulars of this struggle.

Kovacevic goes on to point out that Pittsburgh has the advantages of being the birthplace of the professional game, has a football crazed population that would have absolutely no problem getting jazzed up for the event and a track record for handling big events such as the G-20 Summit. The only obstacle appears to be the lack of anyone seriously pushing the idea.

So what do you as fans and citizens in good standing of Steeler Nation think? Would a Pittsburgh Super Bowl be an idea you could get behind? I'm only speaking for myself at this point and not the management, but I find that I'm liking this idea the more I think about it, and someone(s) has to get the ball rolling on this. Make a note in comments one way or the other.

Coaching changes

Several weeks ago it was hinted that someone beyond Sean Kugler on the offensive staff might be out. It wasn't made clear as to who that individual would be or how or why they would be leaving. Perhaps they were speaking of receivers coach Scotty Montgomery who will be moving on to become offensive coordinator at Duke University. Or maybe there is more to come. It could be said that Montgomery was under a bit of a cloud because of some of the sub par performances of his charges this past season. On the other hand his new position provides an opportunity that he was unlikely to get if he remained in Pittsburgh. We wish him well in his future endeavors.

Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest did a fine Q & A with the new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. in Steelers.com. He answers a range of questions concerning the qualities he seeks from his linemen and how the current group of players stack up, what the top priorities are for the offensive line, what type of blocking schemes may apply and other issues that have been the subject of speculation since his hiring was announced.

Labriola also spoke with Mike Tomlin last week concerning what the important issues are with regard to special teams.

While on the topic of coaching, BTSC's Paper Champions does a breakdown of the weekly preparations of the offensive coaching staff, from the evaluation of the previous game to the development and installation of the game plan for the next opponent.

Player safety and the future of football

Ron Cook covered Roger Goodell's State of the NFL address at the Super Bowl. If you don't like Goodell you're not alone. His approval rating among the players is at about 20 percent. But in spite of player disapproval and the concerns of many in his uneven handling of player safety issues Cook argues that Goodell is gradually being successful in changing the culture of the league in a positive direction.

The CTE and concussions debate continues with Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic. He uses comments made by Deion Sanders as a springboard to a short piece on the subject.

At Steelers.com they are doing a series on the Future of Football with two pieces published this week. MIke Tomlin makes the positive case for football, speaking of how football was of benefit as a developmental tool in his life and why he supports his two sons playing the game. In another piece in the series Bob Labriola relates the experiences of a number of current and former professional players such as Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, Jeff Hartings, Chris Hoke and Tony Boselli who have allowed their sons to play football and why.

Bountygate

Former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been reinstated by the league after serving a yearlong suspension. Williams has apologized for his actions and has now been hired by the Tennessee Titans. With the lifting of Williams' 'indefinite suspension' all individuals involved and punished by the league have now been reinstated, bringing this situation to an end nearly a year after it commenced.

Shear the Beard

Steeler defensive end and team captain Brett Keisel had his Shear the Beard event at Jergel's Rhythm Grille with proceeds to benefit Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. Teammates, family members and coaches took turns clipping away portions of the beard. Included in this group were Steeler Chairman Dan Rooney and head coach Mike Tomlin. The purpose of growing the beard and contributing to cancer treatment grew out of Keisel's friendship with Aaron Smith and the struggles that Smith's son Elijah had with leukemia.

Alumni

Hines Ward was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction. He was presented the award by Bill Cowher.

HOF linebacker Jack Ham held court on participating in Super Bowls, the Oakland Raiders and Ray Lewis in this interview conducted in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa.

Porter on Bettis

This one slipped through the cracks last week. Teresa Varley interviewed former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter on Jerome Bettis prior to the HOF vote last week. Porter described Bettis as a "linebacker that played running back" and related how physically challenging it was to practice against Bettis in training camp. He credits Bettis for much of his own development as a player.

Chris Rainey

The former Steelers running back was placed on and cleared waivers this week. It is believed likely that he will catch on eventually with another team.

Steelers team needs

Pro Football Focus outlined their take on the team needs of the Steelers in 2013. They focused on three areas; cornerback, tight end and inside linebacker. They lauded Keenan Lewis and felt that he should be a priority, but questioned whether the market might push his asking price beyond what was prudent. With the injury to Heath Miller it was felt that the team would have to shore up the position through free agency as well as getting someone who would eventually replace Larry Foote.

2012 Draft do over

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated speculates how teams would pick if they had the first round of the 2012 draft to do over again. Banks felt that the Steelers would have taken safety Harrison Smith in order to address age and health issues surrounding Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.

Off Season cuts

Matt Bowen speaks to the trauma suffered by veteran players who are cut by their teams during the off season.

Commentator rankings

SI.com list the top ten television announcing/commentator teams.

Super Bowl nail biters

Once again the Super Bowl came down to the last play for the outcome to be decided. These games weren't always this exciting. This article at Grantland charts the trends.

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