Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ravens 27, Steelers 21

This afternoon's regular season finale had a decidely pre-season feel. Most disturbing from a Steelers' perspective is that the defense continues to look tired, an ominous sign considering that Pittsburgh is charged with playing a very physical Jacksonville team just six days from now (Sat. Jan. 5, 8pm ET). With the loss "What are the Chances...?" falls to 12-4 on the season and 25-7 overall.


Roethlisberger should be Team MVP

This past week, Steelers' players voted LB James Harrison as Team MVP, a surprising result considering the play of QB Ben Roethlisberger. No doubt Harrison had a terrific year; heck, he had a good year in the first Baltimore game. But Roethlisberger has been, by far, the team's most valuable player, having thrown for 32 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions on a club with a very shaky offensive line. Perhaps Roethlisberger isn't particularly well-liked in the locker room. That's about the only explanation I can think of for why teammates didn't vote him the honor.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ravens: What are the Chances...?

In contrast to the NFL's expectations this Steelers-Ravens game has turned out to be a virtually meaningless matchup. Of course, the Steelers should still do everything possible to win (except play Ben Roethlisberger), just in case Oakland manages to defeat San Diego, an unlikely scenario considering how awful rookie QB JaMarcus Russell has looked in limited action this season. Realistically, the Steelers aren't going to reach the AFC Championship game if Jacksonville and New England are the obstacles. But if Pittsbugh moves up to the #3 seed and plays either Cleveland or Tennessee followed by Indianapolis, the Steelers' chances would improve substantially.

Anyway, "What are the Chances...?" gives the Steelers a 70 percent chance of winning this game, mostly because Baltimore has been decimated by injuries. In fact, the Ravens will be starting rookie Troy Smith at QB, giving the Steelers a big edge at the QB position, even if backup Charlie Batch is the starter, as expected. Recent games between these teams have been very one-sided, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Pittsburgh won fairly easily.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Timmons named the 2nd biggest dud among 2007 rookies

In the new issue of Pro Football Weekly, Steelers' first-round draft choice Lawrence Timmons is listed as the 2nd biggest dud of this year's rookie class. Only Robert Meachem, a WR drafted 27th overall by the New Orleans Saints, has been more disappointing. Click here to read the list of duds.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Steelers 41, Rams 24

Last night the Steelers lost RB Willie Parker for the remainder of the season after he suffered a broken right fibula, and replays would seem to indicate that the artificial turf at the Edward Jones Dome was a factor. Parker's injury should make the Steelers think twice about installing artificial turf at Heinz Field next season. QB Ben Roethlisberger also twisted an ankle or knee when his leg got caught in the turf, although his condition does not appear to be serious. Roethlisberger was sacked four times during the game, and the offensive line has now allowed 47 sacks, threatening the franchise record for sacks allowed.

With another winning prediction, "What are the Chances...?" is 12-3 this season and 25-6 all-time.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rams: What are the Chances...?

Tonight the Steelers battle the Rams in St. Louis, and if history is any indication, the Steelers are destined to lose. Pittsburgh is 0-11-1 on the road and just 6-17-2 overall versus the Rams. It's also worth noting that the team is just 2-4 away from home this year. And it's a concern that St. Louis possesses the kind of skill position players that could give Pittsburgh's defense problems. But I believe there's a good chance that Mike Tomlin & company will get it together this week, which is why "What are the Chances...?" is giving the Steelers a 60 percent chance of winning tonight. Of course, a loss would mean the first three-game losing streak in Tomlin's head coaching career, at which point fans will start questioning whether the Rooney's made the right choice. But that's all nonsense, because Ben Roethlisberger and Dick LeBeau have consistently made this team look better than it really is.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Widow brings husband's ashes to Heinz Field

Nice story from the Post-Gazette about a New Hampshire widow who brought her husband's ashes to Heinz Field for the game against the Jaguars. In life, her husband - a hardcore Steelers' fan - never had the opportunity to attend a game in person.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jaguars 29, Steelers 22

It wasn't hard to see this loss coming ("What are the Chances...?" is now 11-3 on the season and 24-6 all-time in terms of prognostication). The good news is that Pittsburgh still controls its own destiny: Two wins and the Steelers win the AFC North -- guaranteed. The bad news is that the last two games are on the road and Mike Tomlin & Co. are 2-4 away from home this season.

I imagine that Pittsburgh fans are now griping that the team's defense is "the worst" and "looks old," and that our O-line is "an embarrassment." Get over it. We've known all along that this team probably wouldn't be good enough to compete for a Super Bowl title. Certainly, Big Ben is doing a great job of covering up the team's deficiencies on offense, and it's rare that a QB is consistently able to do that in today's NFL.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Jaguars: What are the Chances...?

The Steelers are undefeated at Heinz Field this season, one of only two NFL teams (Patriots) stil unbeaten at home. It won't be easy to go 8-0, however, as the Jaguars present a solid defense (even without Marcus Stroud, now on IR) and the third highest rated QB in the league in David Garrard. This week "What are the Chances...?" give the Steelers just a 45 percent chance of defeating the Jaguars based on: Ben Roethlisberger's less than ideal health; the Steelers' less-than-inspiring history versus Jacksonville; and the fact that teams have fared very poorly this season the week after losing to the Patriots.

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Should Tomlin start Roethlisberger?

Last season Bill Cowher and the Steelers' medical staff let Ben Roethlisberger come back too quickly after both the appendectomy and the concussion he suffered against the Falcons. It cost them the game at Oakland and arguably the game at Jacksonville as well. So if Big Ben is "questionable" to start against the Jags tomorrow I would hope that Mike Tomlin leans against starting him.

First, the Steelers need a relatively healthy Roethlisberger to make any noise in the post-season; he's not going to get any healthier facing the Jags' fierce defense. And don't forget that the Steelers play again just four days after the Jags game, which doesn't leave him much time to recover for that matchup. Also, backup Charlie Batch has proven he can play effectively and win games coming off the bench.

Finally, a big factor that never gets mentioned is: If Tomlin starts Batch and the offense sputters he can always bring Roethlisberger on in relief, potentially giving the crowd and the team a big lift. If Big Ben starts and the offense is ineffective (as was the case in the 9-0 loss at Jacksonville last year), it will be very, very difficult for Tomlin to pull Roethlisberger in favor of Batch. As a Super Bowl-winning franchise QB, Roethlisberger has long since earned the right to play through any struggles he or the offense might experience.

Let's hope Tomlin doesn't make the same mistakes Cowher made in terms of allowing an injured Roethlisberger to start.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Norm Johnson rescues woman from overturned car

This past Monday, former Steelers' placekicker Norm Johnson rescused a woman from a car that was partially submerged in ice cold water. The incident took place in Kitsap County, Washington, where Johnson now works as a real estate agent. Click here to read the local newspaper's account of the incident.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Aaron Smith placed on IR

Today the Steelers placed DE Aaron Smith on injured reserve, thanks to a torn biceps suffered during the game against the Patriots. In the short term the Steelers' run defense could be significantly compromised. But of even greater concern is the long-term significance, as NFL linemen often fail to fully recover from this type of injury (i.e., the injury often recurs).

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Patriots beat Steelers; Belichick reaches new fashion low

Today the Patriots defeated the Steelers, 34-13. Yawn. In other on the field news, Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick eschewed his usual dumpy grey sweatshirt and sported a Michelin Man-type parka, along with geriatric-looking pants that wouldn't look out of place on patients in a nursing home.

In terms of predictions, "What are the Chances...?" is now 10-3 on the season and 23-6 all-time.


Steelers v. Patriots: Line now at 10.5 points

The opening line on the Steelers/Patriots game was 13.5 points, but over the course of the week it has fallen to 10.5 points. It has been a long time since the Steelers have faced odds like this. The Steelers were 12.5 point underdogs for Bill Cowher's first game, way back in September 1992 - a game the Steelers won, 29-24.

Another historical note worth mentioning: The 1984 San Franciso 49ers finished 18-1 and won the Super Bowl that year. The 49ers' only loss came against the Steelers at Candlestick Park.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Patriots: What are the Chances...?

Another tough game to predict.... New England isn't playing its best ball right now, but then again, except for its defense, neither is Pittsburgh. Considering that this game features a 9-3 team against a 12-0 team there are a lot of question marks in terms of how certain units will perform. The key to the game would seem to be whether the Steelers can keep New England's high-powered passing game somewhat under control. If that happens and the Steelers don't commit more than one or two turnovers then Pittsburgh has a very good chance. Another key is that Pittsburgh must play well from the get-go. Mike Tomlin's team has come out flat in four of five road games this season, and against the Patriots a large early deficit will be almost impossible to overcome. With the Pats having played in Baltimore this past Monday night the Steelers have had extra time to rest/prepare, a factor that should not be overlooked. Still, we give the Steelers just a 30 percent chance of defeating the Patriots on Sunday.

Thus far this season "What are the Chances...?" is 9-3 (22-6 all-time).


Friday, December 07, 2007

Replacement of Porter now complete

The Steelers replaced LB Joey Porter's playmaking skills months ago, with James 'Silverback' Harrison well on his way to a Pro Bowl season. In fact, Harrison earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in November, thanks in part to his "career game" against the Ravens. But until this week the Steelers hadn't found a replacement for Porter's "mouth," a role that the quiet-as-a-mouse Harrison could not embrace. But safety Anthony Smith appears to be more than willing to step into Porter's shoes and yap away. This week Smith delivered what I would describe as a qualified guarantee that the Steelers will beat the Patriots on Sunday.

I would imagine that Smith's teammates probably sighed when they got wind of the second-year DB's pronouncement. And Smith probably got called to the principal's office right away. Head coach Mike Tomlin reports telling Smith something along the lines of, 'Write your own checks, but don't write checks for the whole team.' Well said.

But in this case, does Smith's guarantee make much difference? I doubt it. New England is already plenty motivated to keep its unbeaten streak alive, and except for Steelers' fans, no one knows anything about Smith. Of course, Pittsburgh supporters hope that Smith has the opportunity to "introduce" himself to Randy Moss & Co. on Sunday with one of his punishing hits. After all, Smith arguably hits harder (pound-for-pound) than any Pittsburgh defender since Greg Lloyd. Anyway, the Steelers are 14-point underdogs, so no one is really expecting Pittsburgh to win. I doubt Smith is being calculated but he is using one of Porter's old tricks; by keeping the attention focused on himself it allows the rest of the team to prepare for the game in relative peace.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Bengals: What are the Chances...?

This is a very difficult game to project. The Steelers, a 7-point favorite, are expected to win, but there are plenty of reasons to think that Cincy will prevail. Not only has Pittsburgh played poorly in recent weeks, Cincinnati is coming off its best game of the season, a 35-6 drubbing of Tennessee. And the Bengals have had success in Pittsburgh in recent years, winning three of the past four meetings at Heinz Field. Moreover, with WR Santonio Holmes out--and LT Marvel Smith likely out too--Pittsburgh could have trouble keeping up with the Bengals’ high-powered offense (5th in the NFL). Of course, Pittsburgh won the first meeting of the year, but back then our defense did not have to contend with Cincy’s full complement of wideouts. Now that Chris Henry is back from suspension, it could be a lot more difficult to defend the Bengals’ passing game. And having played on Monday night, the Steelers have had less time to prepare than the Bengals, and preparation time differential has been a factor in other Steelers’ games this season.

On the plus side, the Steelers are still undefeated at Heinz Field this year (6-0), while the Bengals are 1-4 on the road. And a sloppy track/bad weather would seem to work in Pittsburgh’s favor. But until Pittsburgh shows signs of coming out of its funk on offense, it’s difficult to pick the Steelers. We’d love to be wrong on this, but "What are the Chances…?" is giving the Steelers a 45 percent chance of defeating the Bengals.

"What are the Chances…?" is 9-2 this season and 22-5 all-time.

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