If you came here looking for a detailed expert analysis of why I think the Steelers will be champions this coming season, you came to the wrong post. I'm not that good at that kind of stuff. I can't break-down teams position-by-position. I can't give you the strengths and weaknesses of every player in the league. There are much smarter people on this blog who can do that.
No, I believe the Steelers will win the championship this year because of fate, good karma, deja vu, whatever you want to call it. You see, it's totally scientific. I'm good at that kind of stuff. Don't worry.
I believe all signs are pointing to the 2011 season being a repeat of Pittsburgh's magical 2005 campaign.
For starters, if you squint your eyes really hard, the number 40 looks a lot like 46. If you needed glasses, you might mistake the 6 for a 0. That's a pretty good foundation for deja vu to build upon, right?
Also, ever notice how similar the 2004 and 2010 seasons were for the Steelers? Back at the start of the 2004 NFL season, there wasn't much expected from our beloved Black and Gold, mostly because they sucked in 2003, finishing with a 6-10 record. The '04 season looked like it might go down the drain really fast when quarterback Tommy Maddox was injured in the second game. The rookie quarterback that the Steelers were able to draft because of their horrible 2003 record, Ben Roethlisberger, was thrust into action. Some people weren't very hopeful that a rookie quarterback would be able to get the job done (I'm talking to you, Alan Faneca), but surprisingly, Roethlisberger helped lead the Steelers to a 15-1 record. Naturally, being a rookie, Big Ben didn't fare too well in the postseason. The Steelers barely squeaked by the New York Jets in the first game. Despite this, Steeler fans were dreaming Super Bowl as the team prepared to face the eventual World Champion Patriots at Heinz Field in the AFC Championship Game. I say "eventual" because it wasn't a good day for Steeler Nation. Tom Brady had his way with the Steelers' defense (what else is new?), and Big Ben had a rough day against Bill Belichick's genius defensive game-plan, even throwing a pick-six that put the Steelers in a 24-3 halftime hole. Pittsburgh mounted a token comeback before going down to New England in-front of a disappointed Steeler crowd. It was a heartbreaking ending, but it was still a pretty awesome season considering the low-expectations at the beginning of the year.
The Steelers didn't really suck in 2009, but they did have a mini-meltdown towards the end of the year and missed the playoffs a season after winning the Super Bowl. The 2010 Steelers were thought to be an aging group on defense. And on offense, they were going to be without Ben Roethlisberger for the first month of the season because.....well, you know why. All signs pointed to, perhaps, a down-year in 2010. But surprisingly, Pittsburgh had a great season--the defense was dominant once again, the offense remained afloat until Roethlisberger's return--and the team finished the year 12-4. In the playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger, now an established two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, was awesome. He helped lead the team to an exciting comeback against the hated Ravens in the first game. In the second contest, it was those New York Jets again--this time in the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers didn't come as close to losing as they did in their '04 postseason game against New York, but they did have to hang on at the end after building a huge first half lead. It was now onto Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers where Pittsburgh would try to win its third title in six years. Unfortunately, Aaron Rodgers pretty much had his way with the Steelers' secondary, and I'm not sure if there are any defensive geniuses on Green Bay's staff, but Big Ben struggled, and once again, threw a pick-six in his next postseason game AFTER playing the Jets. Doesn't that sound familiar? Deja vu, people! The Packers jumped out to a 21-3 first half lead, but Pittsburgh made a furious comeback before falling short at the end. Just like '04, the ending was heartbreaking, but when you considered the many obstacles the 2010 team had to face, it was a marvelous run.
Okay, onto the 2011 season. That whole 2004 vs. 2010 nonsense might just seem like a coincidence, that is, until you examine the 2011 schedule. The Steelers play a lot of the same teams in the same venues as they did in '05. There's Tennessee at home, the Texans on the road, Indianapolis on the road in prime-time, and New England at Heinz field. Heck, Pittsburgh even plays the Seahawks this year, but in the regular season--it won't be in the Super Bowl, that's for damn sure (more on that later). As far as that Indianapolis game, if 2011 is anything like 2005, unfortunately, Peyton Manning will make the Steelers look silly in prime-time like he did in the Monday night game in '05. After this contest, there will be much concern among Steelers fans cause, you know, the Steelers' defense just doesn't do that well against elite quarterbacks. Unfortunately, the Steelers will also look silly against Tom Brady in that game at Heinz because Brady is like an elite quarterback to the 10th degree every time he plays the Steelers.
Pittsburgh will still do okay for themselves initially in 2011, but they'll have to survive the turmoil of the Roethlisberger "Foot-gate." "But Tony, I'm not aware of any "Foot-gate"......wait for it.
Last week, it was reported that Roethlisberger was still suffering from the foot injury he sustained last season and, for the time-being, has put off having surgery. We all know what's going to happen: Big Ben will elect to have surgery during the season and this may not sit well with certain people. If you remember back to '05, Roethlisberger had to have surgery on his knee in the middle of the year and missed a portion of the schedule. I know what you're going to say. No, there wasn't much controversy over Big Ben's mid-season surgery in '05. Ah, but there was that whole "Toe-gate" fiasco after the '04 playoffs. Big Ben insisted that he had broken toes. This was news to then coach Bill Cowher, who, if I remember correctly, said, "I do not recall Ben having any toes." I might be paraphrasing. Anyway, back to 2011. The media will no-doubt question why Ben decided to wait so long before having his foot worked on. "Why didn't he do this in April?" or whatever. The fans might be even less-forgiving. I'm sure they'll say Roethlisberger is being selfish and cite the toe-thing from '04, or the concussion he refused to play with in '09, or a bar tab he walked out on in '06 (not an injury, but always fair-game to bring up in any anti-Ben rant). Of course, his teammates will not like this either and that will surely cause tension in the locker room. Even current coach Mike Tomlin may offer a curt response to a question about Ben's injury. A quote like, "The standard is the standard" will probably be part of that curt response cause Mike says stuff like that.
I'm not sure when Ben will have his surgery, but I'm thinking it will probably be around the time the Steelers play the Jaguars at Heinz Field. Byron Leftwich will surely start this game and be very pumped up for the prospect of facing his old team. His excitement to prove himself will be detrimental, and he'll cost the Steelers the game by throwing 2 or 3 interceptions like Tommy Maddox did against the Jags in '05. I doubt fans will react to Leftwich like they did to Tommy Gun by throwing garbage on his lawn, but a lot of people might "unfriend" him on facebook--a more civilized protest to a bad game, but equally effective.
The Steelers will survive Ben's surgery and short absence, and he'll probably be back and on his game in-time for the big divisional showdown against the Bengals at Heinz Field. That's right, I said the Bengals. The Steelers obviously can't win the division in 2011 if it's going to be anything like '05. You really think the Ravens can win? The Ravens simply don't win divisions. It's a proven fact. This might disappoint some people because they have respect for the great rivalry between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but not me. I hate the Ravens and they stank! (courtesy of Mechem Inc). If I was the commissioner of the football world, I would banish the Ravens to the CFL and laugh. But I digress.
It has to be the Bengals because that's how it was in '05, and Cincy comes to Heinz Field on December 4th this year--the exact same date as the '05 matchup. Spooky. Anyway, you know the story: The Bengals will come to town with a one-game lead in the division, a Bengal player will do something disrespectful to the Terrible Towel, and Cincinnati will walk-away with a two-game advantage.
The Steelers' record at this point will probably be something like 7-5 or 6-6 (it doesn't have to be EXACTLY like '05), and things will look very bleak around here. Even Pittsburgh's wildcard possibilities will seem hopeless.
The Steelers will have 4-games remaining with no-margin for error. Sound familiar? I thought so. Fortunately, the scheduling gods have smiled down upon the last quarter of Pittsburgh's season. You thought the final 4-games of the '05 campaign were pretty sweet when the Steelers faced the Browns and Lions down-the-stretch. This year, they get the Browns twice in the last month sandwiched around dates with the 49ers and Rams.
Easy schedule or not, the Steelers will still need a Bettis-like inspirational figure to rally around if they're going to build momentum. It was kind of assumed that 2005 would be Jerome Bettis' last season, and his teammates used that as inspiration and wanted to get The Bus back to his hometown of Detroit to play in and win the Super Bowl in his final game. Who could be this season's inspirational figure? Hines Ward? Nah, they'll have to drag him off the field. James Farrior? I swear he's a robot. I know James Harrison threatened to retire last season, but even if he did that again this year, it probably wouldn't inspire anyone. It would more than likely anger his teammates (although, I doubt any of them would say that to his face).
I'm thinking it has to be Aaron Smith. He's been injured a lot the last few years, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that 2011 could be Smith's final campaign. Has there ever been a Steeler that's garnered more respect among his teammates than Aaron Smith? They'd run through a brick wall, rebuild that wall brick-by-brick, and then run through it again if Smith asked them to. Of course, the Steeler players will use the fact that Smith may retire as motivation to get him another ring before he calls it a day. Furthermore, it wouldn't be unreasonable to even expect Ziggy Hood to take Smith's spot in the starting line-up in 2011. Ziggy filled in for Aaron when he missed the remainder of the 2010 season and really made his mark as the year went along. Remember, Bettis wasn't the starting tailback in '05, it was Willie Parker. However, much like the '05 Bus, Smith will still be a key contributor and a locker room leader in 2011.
Oh and hey, isn't Indianapolis (the site of Super Bowl XLVI) Aaron Smith's hometown? Could be. Even if it isn't, I'm sure there's some kind of connection there, right? Maybe Aaron has like a 4th cousin that's from there or something. Someone just tell Smith's teammates that Indy is his hometown. Maybe they won't try to research it.
It goes without saying the Steelers will win their last four-games and achieve all the necessary tiebreakers to sneak into the playoffs. They'll be the 6th seed in the AFC and even though they won't be regarded as lightly as the '05 Steelers what with their recent history of winning Super Bowls, Pittsburgh will still be considered heavy underdogs. Afterall, the Colts and Patriots will also be in the playoffs, and you know when those two teams make the tourney, just get the hell out of the way! Besides, as I said, the Super Bowl is in Indianapolis this season, and I'm sure the media will spend the entire year wondering out loud if Peyton can hold serve and actually play host in the Big Game. There may even be a Peyton commercial about it. Anyway, the Steelers will be a mere afterthought at the start of the postseason.
Pittsburgh will obviously play at Cincinnati in their first playoff game, and they will win, cause, you know, why wouldn't they?
It will then be off to the divisional round where, just like '05, the Steelers will have to play the number 1 seed. Like I said, the Colts and Patriots will also be in the playoffs and all the media will want to know is, "when will these pesky divisional playoffs be over so we can see a Patriots vs. Colts AFC Championship Game?" That was largely the sentiment in '05, and I remember even the fans of the Colts and Pats boldly coming onto Steelers message boards and talking trash with one another and arguing about who was going to win the following week's AFC Title game. I can see the same thing happening this year. I can see fans of those two teams coming onto BTSC and totally disregarding the other teams left in the AFC as they look ahead to their AFC showdown the following week.
You probably think the Steelers will play the Colts in the divisional round just like they did in '05, but that would be too much deja vu for even me to handle. No, it will be the Patriots because this would kill two birds with one stone--it would still set the stage for the 6 vs 1 incredible upset AND it would allow the Steelers to finally defeat the Patriots in a big game.
For that divisional matchup against the Colts in '05, Bill Cowher surprised Indy by abandoning his usual conservative postseason approach as his team came out throwing the football in the first half.
In this year's playoff game against the Patriots, the Steelers defense will surprise everyone by ACTUALLY STOPPING Tom Brady. This is a strategy that has yet to be employed by the Steelers' defense in Brady's entire career, and he'll never expect it in a million years.
Anyway, the Steelers will jump out to a huge lead but have to hold-on for dear-life at the end. Despite New England's furious comeback, Pittsburgh will appear to have the game in the bag when Aaron Smith scoops up a Brady fumble in the final moments and rumbles for the goalline. Unfortunately, Smith will suffer a fate similar to Jerome Bettis in the '05 playoff game against the Colts and fumble the ball back to Brady. Brady will try his best to go the distance just like Nick Harper in '05. Who's going to stop him? Obviously, Big Ben won't be on the field and will be unable to make another "The Tackle." No, but Troy Polamalu will be out there, and he'll catch up to Brady and show him who really does have the most luxurious hair in the league. Polamalu will bring down Brady with a tackle that will forever be known as "The Hair-pull".
Hopefully, Smith's fumble won't cause a fan to have a heart attack like one guy did when Bettis fumbled against the Colts--maybe just a severely stubbed toe after kicking an end-table really hard.
Despite the late-game scare, the Steelers will survive and advance to the AFC Title game for the 2nd consecutive year. Being the 6th seed, they'll have to go on the road for the 3rd week in a row. However, they won't have to travel to Indianapolis for the AFC Championship because, naturally, the Colts will also lose and the fans of both New England and Indy will be out in the cold just like they were in '05. No, fate being what it is, the Steelers will have to go play the AFC West winner at their house for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
It won't be Denver this time around because they really suck. I'm thinking it'll be the Chargers, Chiefs, or even the Raiders (God-willing). The fans of the AFC West winner will be super-excited about their unexpected home-game in the AFC Title matchup (Broncos' fans were in '05 after the Steelers knocked off the Colts).
But those fans will be stunned when the Steelers go to their house and throttle their team. It probably won't be 34-17 like the Denver game. I'm thinking a score of 20-3 or 24-6 would be appropriate deja vu. In any event, a pretty easy victory for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh will be on a roll as they head to their second-straight Super Bowl, winners of 7-games in a row. Roethlisberger will repeat his '05 road playoff trifecta and for something like the 19th time in his career, he'll win-over his teammates and prove to them that he really is a great team leader.
The fans and media will also be back on board and will have long-forgotten about "Foot-gate".
Even the experts will finally concede that Roethlisberger deserves to be considered among the league's elite quarterbacks behind only Manning, Brady, Brees, Rivers, Rodgers, the other Manning, Romo, Ryan, Sanchez, Flacco, Vick, and Tebow.
If you need more evidence of this whole deja vu-phenomenon, Indianapolis is very similar to Detroit. I mean, let's be honest, it's not exactly a tropical paradise and a bit of an unusual city to hold a Super Bowl. Also, Ford Field and Lucas Oil Stadium are both domed venues. And Indianapolis is located in the midwest just like Detroit and very accessable to Steelers fans who will almost surely invade the city just like they invaded Motown in February of '06. My God, even the date of Super Bowl XLVI is the same as Super Bowl XL: February 5th. The hair on the back of my neck just stood up.
The AFC is the designated home-team for the Super Bowl this year, but much like '05, the Steelers will wear their white jerseys for the Super Bowl because of the "Road Warriors" path they will have to take to get there. The players will probably want to wear their black jerseys this time around, but there will be some poll conducted somewhere, and the overwhelming response will be for Pittsburgh to wear white because Steeler fans really do believe in deja vu (and you thought this whole post was a joke).
You're probably wondering who Pittsburgh's Super Bowl opponent will be. Well, as I said a long time ago (man is this a long-winded piece), it certainly won't be the Seahawks. They had their chance. It will be a team named after a bird, though. I mean, let's face it, the Steelers haven't fared well in the Super Bowl in recent years against marquee teams like the Cowboys and Packers. However, if you're a football team with a bird on your helmet and have to play Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, look the hell out!
It won't be Arizona again because this is '05 deja vu, not '08 (that's coming in 2014). It's not going to be the Eagles. I mean, Big Ben vs. Michael Vick? The league would conspire to make both teams lose.
I think a good team to play would be the Atlanta Falcons. They're talented, and they've been close to breaking through in recent years. And just like the Seahawks, they don't have much history and wouldn't exactly be a sexy opponent for the Steelers.
February 5th, 2012 will be a glorious day. Sure, Pittsburgh may struggle early-on like they did in XL, but eventually, they'll take control of the game. Despite Aaron Smith playing in his last game in his hometown (maybe, still have to research that), Ziggy Hood will make the defensive play of the night when he strip-sacks Matt Ryan and scores a touchdown. If you remember back to Super Bowl XL, it was Willie Parker who made the biggest impression at running back, not Jerome Bettis.
Before I continue, a warning to Ziggy Hood:
Ziggy, you're going to find it hard to replace Aaron Smith when he finally does retire. Just ask Willie Parker what it's like to replace a legend. I mean, my God, the fans were calling for any back with an over-eating problem to come in and take Parker's place simply because he wasn't a load like The Bus. You might not think that will happen because you'll be riding high after your Super Bowl heroics, but just watch the reaction to the first time the Steelers defense gives up 100 yards on the ground. It will be your fault. Be prepared for the fans to want another "Aaron Smith-type" to be brought in to play defensive end. I don't know what an Aaron Smith-type is, but I'm sure you'll find out soon enough. But don't you worry about that for now, that's for 2012 and beyond. Right now, you just worry about that strip-sack in the upcoming Super Bowl.
Anyway, the Steelers will defeat Atlanta by a score of 24-10 or whatever. Big Ben will struggle a little, not much, just enough to not get full credit. Mike Wallace is a Steelers wide receiver so he'll obviously be named mvp (although, it could be Hines Ward), and Pittsburgh will be in 7th Heaven!
Since it will be a Steelers Super Bowl victory, naturally, there will be a few controversial plays that go Pittsburgh's way, and the fans of the Falcons will be screaming about it for years. Five years from now, you'll still find videos on youtube (or whatever video medium eventually overtakes youtube in the industry) detailing those controversial plays. The title of a video might be something along the lines of: "Why the Falcons should have won Super Bowl XLVI." The video will show a touchdown that should have gone in-favor of the Falcons or not gone in-favor of the Steelers, and the video will be slowed down frame by frame, accompanied by some really eerie and foreboding music complete with an equally eerie caption: "If the NFL can do this to the Falcons, imagine what they can do to your team! F@@@ the Stealers! Cheaters never win! Falcons4life!"
The Falcons fans will have their conspiracy videos, but the Steelers will have yet another Super Bowl title.
You're probably wondering how I can be so sure that Pittsburgh will win it all this year. After all, the lockout is still in progress and free agents and draft choices have yet to be signed. However, fate doesn't care about free agents. She's good at working around all of that mess. When it's written in the stars, nothing can get in the way.
The Steelers will be Super Bowl XLVI champions. I'm no Peter King, but you read it here first.