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Steelers ABCs: Losses, Morass, and Nihilism — Part 1

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In this edition, we break down the first four games of Pittsburgh’s 2018 schedule.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Well, hello there. Vacation put me behind a couple of days, so I’d like to tie a few of these together and run through the first half of the Steelers 2018 schedule, wading carefully through the morass of what could happen and what should happen. The primary caveat for this particular exercise is that I’ll place the brunt of the emphasis on the former.

Away we go!

Week 1 @ Browns

What should happen: The Steelers should demolish these Browns, regardless of how much better they look on paper than they did a year ago (it should be noted that similar narratives were opined about the 2017 iteration of the Browns, an outfit that, against all odds, somehow managed to do worse than they did the year prior).

What could happen: Cleveland’s offseason transactions could actually yield positive results. Josh Gordon’s belief that the Browns “have the best receiving corps in the league” is ambitious and enterprising and more probably incorrect, but the notion that he, one of the most physically gifted athletes in the NFL, Jarvis Landry (a three-time Pro Bowler!) and Corey Coleman (a former first-round pick) could transmogrify into the 2000 St. Louis Rams isn’t exceedingly farfetched. Even if the receiving corps hasn’t quite ascended to the forefront of the league’s elite, Cleveland’s backfield, composed of Duke Johnson (who caught 74 passes last season), Carlos Hyde (who came dang close to crossing the 1,000-yard threshold in each of his past two seasons despite playing behind a sieve-like offensive line), and Nick Chubb (one of the most skilled running backs in the 2018 rookie class), is suddenly and legitimately among the stacked in the NFL. Tyrod Taylor—who, if the Browns are smart (lol), will serve as a bridge quarterback this season while No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield learns the ropes (again, lol)—certainly represents an upgrade over the erstwhile DeShone Kizer, who threw six more interceptions in 2017 alone than Taylor did in his past three seasons combined. Also, despite being sacked roughly a gazillion times last season, Taylor committed only four fumbles. Tyrod Taylor isn’t turnover-prone, is what I’m getting at. Having a quarterback under center who isn’t going to commit 30 turnovers—and, idk, hot take, I guess— could equate to at least a handful of wins for Cleveland.

Week 2 vs Chiefs

What should happen: The Steelers should win, largely because they are 7-1 against Kansas City in games started by Ben Roethlisberger, but also because the the Steelers are probably a better football team than the Chiefs.

What could happen: The law of averages could play out. It isn’t as if the Chiefs are some hapless, snake-bitten franchise that farts around the bottom of their division leaderboard and serves as cannon fodder for better teams. This is a team routinely among the most formidable squads in the AFC. To put the Chiefs’ general excellence in proper context, consider that they traded away their Pro Bowl quarterback this offseason and might actually be better off as a result. That the Chiefs have placed their bets on Patrick Mahomes is telling of their confidence, not only in his ability to seamlessly assume the void left by the departed Alex Smith, but to elevate the offense to a level beyond that reachable under Smith’s tutelage. Mahomes is joined in the backfield by Kareem Hunt, who led the league in rushing as a rookie in 2017 and has already asserted himself as an elite, multifarious hybrid who, on most days, is impossible to fully contain. After Pittsburgh’s calamitous showing against Jacksonville and Leonard Fournette in the AFC Playoffs, the thought of facing a running back of Hunt’s caliber so early in the season ought to terrify them.

Week 3 @ Bucs

What should happen: Win!

What could happen: The negativity here is multi-pronged, and I guess one’s approach depends on how you view the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They went 5-11 last season, and their starting quarterback, Jameis Winston, will not be available for this game due to a suspension. Hence, according to the bad team + road game = humiliating Steelers loss formula, it could be argued that a roster with Mike Evans, Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David, Desean Jackson, and Winston underperformed last season. This was due in no small part to playing in the league’s best division. In other words, the Bucs might actually be pretty good, in which case they present an interesting challenge for the Steelers. Alternatively, the Bucs might actually be very bad, in which case they still might be better than the road-Steelers.

Week 4 vs. Ravens

What should happen: What usually happens: a competitive, impossible-to-call slugfest between bitter inter-divisional rivals.

What could happen: The Ravens could steal a critical early-season win. Baltimore has been knocked out of postseason contention by last-second, borderline miraculous plays in each of the past two seasons — this despite fielding teams that were categorically inferior to pretty much anything we’ve seen in the John Harbaugh era (2015 notwithstanding). Joe Flacco can’t possibly be this bad, and I think the presence of Lamar Jackson could compel him to at least impersonate a serviceable NFL passer, even if for only another season or two. The additions of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown to the receiving corps should amplify the passing attack, as should rookie tight end Hayden Hurst. The Ravens have some burly, crafty, and fleet-footed offensive weapons at their disposal now!