The Pittsburgh Steelers opened training camp on Friday, July 27th, 2012. It is the time of year for hope, optimism, and prognostication. Last year, I predicted that the Steelers would be 13-3. They ended up 12-4, just one Joe Flacco late TD from nailing my projected win total. Not too bad, although I did not pick the correct losses. Here are my fearless game-by-game predictions for the 2012 season. (All times are Eastern.)
Sunday, September 9 at Denver Broncos 8:20 p.m.
The Steelers begin the season with a chance for redemption back in Denver. Instead of facing playoff hero Tim Tebow, the Steelers will face QB Peyton Manning who will be starting his comeback from multiple neck surgeries. The Steelers have handled Peyton pretty well. After taking some big hits in this one, he may be questioning his return. Isaac Redman posts his first 100 yard game with a couple highlight reel efforts breaking tackles. Steelers romp in prime time, 32-17. (1-0)
Sunday, September 16 New York Jets 4:25 p.m.
Just a week after the Denver redemption, the Steelers will see a little of Tim Tebow with the New York Jets. He won't be the starting QB, yet, but will probably have some specific plays. The Jets are a mess, though. They won't be able to score over 10 points against the Blast Furnace defense. Ben Roethlisberger will work to help Jerricho Cotchery score against his old team. Steelers delight the home crowd with a 28-10 victory in the home opener. (2-0)
Sunday, September 23 at Oakland Raiders 4:25 p.m.
This has all the makings of a trap game. The Steelers have to fly all the way across the country for a game against an inferior team in the midst of a serious makeover. The Steelers have an early bye after the game. (I wonder if some players will just leave from California for Hawaii.) The Raiders seem to play above their talent against the Steelers, especially in Oakland. They have some exciting young players, too (Denarious Moore and Darren McFadden). Except for Mike Tomlin's influence, this could be a loss. Tomlin keeps the team focused and they escape with a 17-16 win as Troy Polamalu picks off Carson Palmer in the end zone to preserve the win. Johnathan Dwyer has a good game subbing for Redman and earns more opportunities. (3-0)
Sunday, October 7 Philadelphia Eagles 1:00 p.m.
Michael Vick is a Steelers' nemesis. When you add the Seans (LeSean McCoy and Desean Jackson), the Eagles bring a quick strike capability into the cross-state rivalry. The Eagles still won't be stopping the run very effectively, so the Steelers will stick with a smash-mouth game plan, alternating Redman and Dwyer as battering rams and clock eaters. But the Eagles will stick tight and Michael Vick will sink in the late dagger again. Steelers drop this one 28-24. (3-1)
Thursday, October 11 at Tennessee Titans 8:20 p.m.
This used to be a painful, division rivalry. And the Titans used to be good. The Steelers, though, face a quick week and have to travel to Nashville for this national, prime time game. The Steelers will fall behind early because of fatigue. However, their superior talent will take over. Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will lead a second half comeback to give the Steelers a 35-27 win. (4-1)
Sunday, October 21 at Cincinnati Bengals 8:20 p.m.
The Bengals got better in a hurry last season with the addition of receiver A.J. Green and QB Andy Dalton. Green is a legitimate threat, but I think Dalton will fall back some this season. The Bengals defense has always been scrappy against the Steelers, especially the defensive line. If there was only a week to prepare, the Steelers could drop this road game. However, they have 10 days to rest and prepare. The defense will stymie the Bengals who won't be able to run at all. The Steelers pull through in prime time again: 27-13. (5-1)
Sunday, October 28 Washington Redskins 1:00 p.m.
Robert Griffin III should be entrenched as the Redskins starting QB by now. And he will have some big plays outside the pocket against the Steelers defense. But that will be about all for the Redskins. The Steelers defense will slow Coach Shanahan's vaunted running game and limit the play action opportunities. The Steelers will then take advantage of the pedestrian Redskins' defense for a 28-13 final. Tomlin will give the game ball to Larry Foote for making the right defensive calls and for disrupting the Redskins' rushers. (6-1)
Sunday, November 4 at New York Giants 4:25 p.m.
As November starts, the Steelers have to face the defending World Champion New York Giants on their home turf. It is a battle with no cheerleaders, as neither team believes they are necessary. The Giants offense has lost several pieces, including Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs. However, they did not lose their stars Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, or Ahmad Bradshaw. Either Nicks or Bradshaw is likely to be injured for this game, but the Giants always find helpful role players. Unless QB Eli Manning throws a few interceptions, I think the Giants are able to pull this one out 21-17 (6-2).
Monday, November 12 Kansas City Chiefs 8:30 p.m.
When I saw this Monday night match-up the only thing that came to mind was "slaughter." The Steelers under Mike Tomlin are great on Monday nights (6-1). Their only loss was last season's disappointment in San Francisco. The Chiefs are a mediocre team hoping to run the ball down their opponents' throats with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis (both coming off injuries). The Steelers won't let the Chiefs (or anyone else) run much. QB Matt Cassell will wish he was still riding the pine behind Tom Brady. Roethlisberger shows him how to play QB as the Steelers romp 36-6. (7-2)
Sunday, November 18 Baltimore Ravens 8:20 p.m.
Now this is a real prime time gem! The Steelers turn on the lights again for the hated Ravens. It is late in the season for the renewal of the rivalry, but these two games will be even more critical as the playoff chase is taking shape. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and company will be hoping for a replay of their stunning last minute win in Pittsburgh last season. The Steelers face a short week, but don't have to travel. Their romp over the Chiefs in the previous week will give some starters much needed rest. The offensive line will be more cohesive by now, and the Steelers will have some modest success running against the Ravens aging and depleted defense. With the home crowd support, the Steelers win another classic 21-16. (8-2)
Sunday, November 25 at Cleveland Browns 1:00 p.m.
The Browns are a welcome sight between the two Ravens games. While this is a throw-back rivalry, it has not been competitive for awhile. The Browns might have improved a bit through the season, but they still plan to be starting a rookie QB (Brandon Weeden) and a rookie RB (Trent Richardson). They won't be ready for the Blast Furnace defense. The Browns keep it close with a spirited effort, but fall 23-10. (9-2)
Sunday, December 2 at Baltimore Ravens 4:25 p.m.
For the second time in three weeks, the NFL's toughest rivalry takes center stage. The Ravens' fans will be out in force. I think the Ravens postseason hopes will be on the line in this one as they will come in at 6-5. They will be coming back from a west coast diversion against the San Diego Chargers, so they will be fatigued at first. But they always get up for the Steelers. Ray Rice will have a big game here. The Steelers will make a late charge, but a key turnover will doom them to a 23-21 loss, giving the Ravens some hopes for a playoff berth (9-3).
Sunday, December 9 San Diego Chargers 1:00 p.m.
Who can figure out the San Diego Chargers? At times they look like the most talented team in the league. Then they just start losing games. TE Antonio Gates is all-world, but often injured now. QB Philip Rivers is great, even when he doesn't have elite targets. The defense can be great or shaky. So, this game is the hardest to predict. However, I think the Chargers will be tired of the physical AFC North after having hosted the Ravens and Bengals in the previous two games. So, they will limp out of Heinz Field after a 30-17 pounding. (10-3)
Sunday, December 16 at Dallas Cowboys 4:25 p.m.
The NFL gives an early Christmas present to two of their largest fan bases as the Cowboys and Steelers renew a classic match-up that has included three Super Bowls. While the Steelers have continued their excellence, the Cowboys are an annual disappointment, especially in December. Despite gun-slinger QB Tony Romo leading a prolific offense, the Cowboys do not win when it counts the most. Ben Roethlisberger throws three touchdown passes, including two deep ones, to lead the Steelers to a close win, 34-30. Jerry Jones fires someone. (11-3)
Sunday, December 23 Cincinnati Bengals 1:00 p.m.
Because of a softer schedule, the young Bengals might still be in the playoff hunt late in the season. However, they face the Steelers and Ravens in the last two weeks of the season. It will be crunch time for them. If the Steelers are 11-3 with two games to go, they are most likely playing just for home field advantage. On a cold, snowy day, though, they will not take advantage of their home field. A.J. Green lights up a suddenly softer Steelers secondary for 2 TDs, while the Steelers run game goes cold. Bengals win to set up a play-in game for the wild card with the Ravens in week 17. The Steelers are stung by the 23-14 loss, but it wakes them out of complacency. (11-4)
Sunday, December 30 Cleveland Browns 1:00 p.m.
The poor Browns will be just playing for pride and next year's contracts. The Steelers need a victory to claim a bye week and a home game in the playoffs. That's a bad mix for the Browns. The Steelers pour it on in the first half and cruise to a 40-13 playoff tune-up. (12-4)
So, my fearless prediction is 12-4 with a #1 or #2 seed in the AFC playoffs. That's about the average for Mike Tomlin. I see no reason to lower the expectations for the premiere franchise in the NFL. Here we go, Steelers, here we go!
Sean Durity is a Terrible Towel twirling Steelers fan living in Atlanta. He grew up cheering the 1970s dynasty and appreciates the organization's excellence even more as an adult. Follow him on Twitter @SeanDurity
More from this contributor:
Steelers 2012 Schedule, nfl.com
Steelers 2012 Preseaston Game Day Notes steelers.com, media-only section