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The Steelers ABCs: Losses, Morass, and Nihilism — Part 2

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We continue to dig through the Steelers’ 2018 schedule.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We’re runnin’ through the schedule bein’ all negative and stuff.

Check out Part 1 here.

Week 5 vs. Falcons

What should happen: You should check out the sportsbooks, determine the “over/under” for this matchup, and mortgage your future child’s college savings on the “over.”

What could happen: Atlanta could hang, like, 50 points on the Steelers. What concerns me most about the Falcons’ offense is not the sheer breadth of volcanic firepower at its disposal, but the efficiency and coherence with which it operates. In 2017, Atlanta finished in the top-10 in the NFL in yards per completion, yards per rush, first-down percentage, yards per play, giveaways, first-downs per game, and offensive DVOA. This despite the 2017 version of Matt Ryan taking a pretty significant step backward from the NFL MVP-winning version of the year prior. Of course, Atlanta’s sustained offensive aptitude was aided in no small part by Julio Jones who, despite amassing 1,400 or more receiving yards in each of the past four seasons, hasn’t had a double-digit touchdown campaign since 2012. Additionally, the omnipotent backfield gruesome-twosome composed of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Jones, Coleman, and Freeman will presumably carry most of the offensive load for Atlanta in 2018 and — if the past two seasons provide any indication of things to come — will do so with great effect. Plus, if Ryan returns to his 2016 form, the whole enterprise is gonna be damn-near unstoppable.

Week 6 @ Bengals

What should happen: The Bengals should jump out to an early lead, which will grow to 14 or more points by halftime. They will hold this lead until midway throughthe third quarter, at which point Andy Dalton will throw interceptions on three consecutive drives and Vontaze Burfict will inject bath salts or something. The Steelers will end up kicking a short field goal as time expires.

What could happen: Eventually, the Bengals will stop screwing these games up. The Steelers have won five straight games at Paul Brown Stadium, but haven’t won in particularly convincing fashion since 2015. Cincinnati’s last three home losses to Pittsburgh were all abetted by myriad bone-headed atrocities, but it’s worth remembering that the Bengals should’ve cruised to victories in all three matchups. That the Steelers managed to secure these wins is more of a statistical anomaly than a mathematical likelihood.

One thing which stands out about Cincinnati is their core, which has remained virtually intact over the past half-dozen or so years. In other words, the same dudes (Dalton, Burfict, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, to name a few) who carried Cincinnati to five consecutive playoff appearances are also the ones who limped to 9-loss seasons in each of the past two years. Now, these dudes are all still playing at a relatively high level, so, if I had to assign blame to the parties responsible for accelerating Cincinnati’s decline, I’d start with Mike Brown, who probably is the kind of billionaire who’d kick up a fuss about paying extra for guac at Chipotle but definitely is the kind of billionaire who would provide a 2-year contract extension for a universally-panned head coach with an 0-7 playoff record. Cincinnati’s brain trust (even our distinguished colleagues at Cincy Jungle hate these people) also deserves blame for allowing Andrew Whitworth, Marvin Jones, Mohammad Sanu, and Kevin Zeitler to depart in free agency, while doing precisely nothing of inherent value with the resulting compensatory picks. Lastly, there’s Tyler Eifert, who makes Senquez Golson look like Cal Ripken Jr.

But Eifert (or, more accurately, a meat-cyborg composed entirely of Tyler Eifert’s parts) is finally healthy and ready to boogie. John Ross, the ninth overall pick a year ago, figures to assume a fairly pronounced role this season, if not a starting spot. William Jackson, Carl Lawson, Cordy Glenn, Giovani Bernard, and George Iloka are all nice players. Billy Price, an offensive guard/center the Bengals selected in the first round this season, could immediately placate some of their offensive line woes. This is dumb, but the Bengals are probably a better team than what we’re giving them credit for. More than anything, though, this is a group eager to surmount the massive hurdle imposed by its most hated rival.

Week 7 Bye

Week 8 vs. Browns

What should happen: This should essentially be a second bye-week.

What could happen: The Steelers’ post-bye struggles could continue! The Steelers are 1-3 in post-bye-week games since 2014 (1-4 if you count the loss to Jacksonville in the Divisional Round — which I would like to count). Their lone victory came on a last-second field goal against a Colts squad that finished the season at 4-12. Notable, too, is that Pittsburgh’s Week-9 game against Baltimore might potentially be a de facto AFC North championship game—TRAP GAME.

Week 9 @ Ravens

What should happen: Honestly, the Ravens probably should win this game since it’s at home.

What could happen: The thing I mentioned above. The Ravens have done a very Boston Celticsy kind of thing by remaining moderately competitive in the midst of an obvious rebuild, an accomplishment for which they should be commended. Their secondary is arguably second to none at this point, and both the receiving corps and backfield — units which have been pretty barren during the past two seasons — are now stocked with high-upside youngsters and established veterans alike. I really think this laborious effort will finally bear fruit this season, with Baltimore getting themselves back in the postseason mix after an uncharacteristic, multi-year layoff.