Sunday, January 01, 2012

A New Year, A New Season

Time for the Steelers to step up.
The Playoffs. Shrug.*

First, a hearty congratulations to Hines Ward for his 1,000 career receptions.

Looking forward, how will the Steelers do this post-season?  How healthy will they be?  Will they win three games on the road?  Will they win even one?

Tough to say.  This is a tricky team to read.  The Steelers' defense was rated No. 1 in the NFL in passing yards per game (171.9) and total yards per game (271.8).  Still, this doesn't look like a Super Bowl team. Super Bowl teams don't surrender a 92-yard drive late in the fourth quarter to Joe Flacco, lose twice to the Baltimore Ravens, let the Houston Texans run roughshod over them or struggle mightily in two games vs. the Browns, who once again had a chance to win at the end of the game.

We're hoping for more, but (realistically) this Steelers team looks like a moderately good team with a decent chance to win a playoff game on the road -- and then maybe get on a roll and hope for the best.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would feel a lot more confident if the team wasn't so banged up. Big Ben, who is not near 100 percent and won't be for months. Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall (out for the season) and backup, clutch third-down running back Mewelde Moore.  Offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster, as well as tight end David Johnson.  Star linebacker and pass-rushing monster Lamarr Woodley.  Valuable cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen, as well as backup corner and special teams contributor Curtis Brown (on injured reserve).  Special teams leaders Arnaz Battle and Will Allen.  The defense's leading tackler, safety Ryan Clark, who will should miss Sunday's game in Denver because of his vulnerability to sickle cell trait. And so on.

Another wacky season. And another one just beginning.

Hello, Denver.  Tebow Time! 

Tim Tebow completed just six of 22 passes vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, as the Broncos scored a mere three points in their 7-3 loss in the season finale. The Broncos won the AFC West, however, and with it the right to host the Steelers next Sunday in the first round of the AFC Playoffs.

At a glance, this should be a winnable game for the Steelers, but the Broncos have a very good running game -- they led the NFL in rushing with 164.5 yards per game; a very good defense -- with stellar pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumerville; a mile-high home-field advantage; and a tremendous long-range field-goal kicker in Matt Prater, who could make the difference in a close game.

Denver could win. Stranger things have happened.  Let's put it this way: If the Steelers play the Broncos the way they played the Browns yesterday in Cleveland, they lose.

About The Chokeland Raiders: Any team that brings in Carson Palmer to save its season deserves what it gets. Not that it would have been any easier than going to Denver, but the Steelers would be traveling to Oakland if only the Raiders hadn't self-sabotaged once again on Sunday.

In true Raiders fashion, Oakland lost to San Diego by setting the all-time NFL record for most penalties and most penalty yards in a season.  Averaging more than 10 penalties per game this year, the Raiders finished the season with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards -- which surpasses their own trend for, oh, about the past 35 years. Pride and poise, baby.

Think about that for a second: The Raiders' 1,358 yards in penalties are roughly equivalent to the 1,364 yards rushing accumulated by the NFL's second-leading rusher, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. That's a lot of penalty yards to negate and overcome.  By comparison, in case you were wondering, the Steelers finished in the middle of the pack (16th) in penalties and penalty yards (14th).

Goodbye, Raiders, Jets, Cowboys and other clowns. Time to start anew.

Forget Tebow Time. The Playoffs Are Steeler Time.

*The Playoffs. Shrug?  Yeah, we Steeler fans are spoiled, and we have high expectations. That doesn't mean we are unappreciative of our team or how good we have it.  It also doesn't mean we'd rather live in Cleveland, or Arizona, or Cincinnati, or Tampa, or Charlotte, or Seattle, or Dallas, or Atlanta, or Philadelphia, or Long Island, or anywhere else that does or doesn't have an NFL team.  It just means we expect our team, the Steelers, to do well -- and we expect the players and everybody else in Steeler Nation to feel the same way.  Anything wrong with that?

Okay, so the Steelers made it to the playoffs. We've known that for weeks. Now it's time to start paying attention.

Happy New Year!

Artwork credit: Trevor, whoever that is, but it's a nice graphic, so thanks for sharing.