I think it's quite clear after we found a way to beat both Baltimore and Jacknsonville in a 6 day span that we're capable of hanging with anybody in the league. We'll the deciders of our fate for the most part I feel, meaning that if we're playing up to our ability, there's a great chance we'll win any given week. And vice versa. That said, let's still take a look at who awaits us on the schedule the month folllowing the BYE.
Week 7 @ Cincinnati Bengals (0-5)
While talking to a friend earlier I said that 'if the Bengals had any spine at all, they'll be treating our game against them in two weeks like their Super Bowl'. His response? 'They've shown they have no spine time and time again.' Good point. Still, I think this game is a potential trap game for us, our first true one of the season. Much like the Jets game last year, actually. Last year, we weren't ready to handle business on the road against teams that were inferior on paper. This year? I think we're more focused and that starts with our head coach. The Bengals are a few plays from having a couple of victories, so I wouldn't be surprised if they at least keep the game competitive through 3 quarters. In the end though, I think our pass rush will be too much. And, oh yeah, Willie Parker should be back and he tends to have his way with the Bengals rush defense. Still, color me concerned about any divisional road game against a team that is still looking to get off the snide.
Week 8 vs. New York Giants (4-0)
This is where the fun really begins, though Ben Roethlisberger's banged up frame might be less inclined to agree. He'll be up for the challenge though, even if the Giants' pass rush is enough to give any Steelers fan nightmares. Ben vs. Eli, with both teams likely entering the contest with records at or near the of their respective conferences. My gut tells me we matchup well with them and that we might be able to have some success against their improved, but still young, secondary. As for Eli Manning? Well, he sure has silenced any critics who were trying to label him a one-hit-wonder before the season. He's completing 63% of his passes and has a health 6:1 TD to INT ratio. Still, it's worth noting that the only thing resembling a defense that he's faced was against Washington in Week 1, when they didn't quite have things in motion. Let's see how he does at Heinz Field against a confusing and physically imposing Steelers defense.
Week 9 @ Washington Redskins (4-1)
Our next appearance on Monday Night Football comes at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Maryland, where a resurgent Skins team will await. The Skins are the toast of the league right now, having just dusted the Cowboys and the Eagles on the road in consecutive weeks. THAT'S impressive. The Redskins still do not have an offensive turnover and for those who thought that new coach Jim Zorn would be bringing a pass happy West Coast offense to the nation's capital, think again. The Skins are pounding the ball on the ground and are having tremendous success closing games out behind the strong running of Clinton Portis. Portis racked up 150+ yards against an Eagles defense that had previously been impregnable against the run, and he now only trails Michael Turner of the Falcons by 29 yards for the NFL rushing lead. I've seen the Skins plenty the last couple of years and I'm not quite ready to pencil them in as the team that the media would like you to believe after the past two games. What happens when teams find a way to shut down the run? Can Campbell take over late? He did once against New Orleans, but that's a suspect defense. Since I will be at this game (woot!), I'm expecting a scintillating, down-to-the-wire affair.
Week 10 vs. San Diego Chargers (2-3)
Another tricky spot for our Steelers. This two week stretch will be the second time we'll have to play two solid teams in 6 days. Who knows what to make of San Diego, so I won't even try. I think we can dominate them physically and take LT out of the football game, but their run defense ain't so shabby either. This is a game where our special teams will have to be up to the challenge. Return man Darren Sproles is as good as anyone in the business. Beware a potential shoot out here, with both QBs throwing 35+ times for 300+ yards.
That's just a taste of what we have ahead of us. Looming still would be the Colts, Patriots, Dallas, and still unbeaten Tennessee. As BTSC stalwart Bad Maafala said recently, this is going to be a fun season, regardless of how things break.