The Steelers’ 2012 schedule is a bit of a tough nut to crack with regards to how ‘tough’ or how ‘easy’ it is. It appears to have stretches of weeks that seem very manageable and others that will test the toughness and fortitude of the Black & Gold. And, of course, the NFL has done another lovely job of packing in the most heated rivalry in the league. But which game will the be the most crucial for the Steelers?
The team faces two AFC West opponents in the Broncos and Raiders and a weak AFC East Jets within the first three weeks of the season. Peyton Manning joins the Broncos in hopes to ramp up what was a rather barren Tebow’d offense. As the first game of the season, the Steelers will have a young offensive line going against a defense that ranked 18th defending the pass and 24th defending the run. Not a huge test, but it will be the first time where it counts for a line that could potentially have two rookie starters. Peyton is sure to test the defense, and our defense will need some inspirational injected play all season long if they want to redeem themselves and get the team back to the playoffs. The defense was the top ranked defense, once again, last season. But, they were just about the root cause of why the team lost in the Wild Card round and made Tim Tebow look like Bart Starr. Is this first game of the season the most crucial game for the Steelers? Last season, the team suffered a crushing loss to the Ravens in Week 1 and put themselves in a deep hole in the AFC North race. They never were able to surpass the Ravens for the division and drew the Broncos in that Wild Card game.
The Steelers have a bye week in Week 4 then face the Eagles, Titans, Bengals, and Redskins the next four weeks. None of those teams appear to be a huge threat for the Steelers. The Eagles will be looking to recover from the failed Andy Reid ‘experiment,’ the Titans are still wondering if the real Chris Johnson will ever show up, the Bengals have yet to really prove how ‘good’ they are with Big Red (or if it was just a rookie cinderella story), and the Redskins might still be working out the kinks with rookie QB, RGIII. The Steelers will need to be careful when playing the NFC East teams this season. Any of them (even though I just pointed out some problems with two teams) could prove to be dangerous one week and a bust the next. Will the Steelers get caught in a trap game with the Skins or Eagles, only to have the Ravens or Bengals beat both? The Bengals will be an important game because of the divisional standings. But is it the most crucial because it’s in Cincinnati?
The Steelers follow up that four week romp with a game against the reigning Super Bowl Champs at MetLife Stadium. Yikes. The Giants, like most teams coming off a Super Bowl win, could still be shaking off the hangover. But will that be evident this late into the season during Week 9? Eli is always poised for a win, and if Tommy C can coach his men like he did during last year’s playoffs, then this game spells big trouble for the Steelers. The Giants prove to be one of the bigger threat teams. And, it may not be awful if the Steelers lose to them because every team in the AFC North could bow out against the G-men. Most crucial or not?
The Steelers then face the Chiefs and then the Ravens two times in three weeks with the three legged Browns squeezed between. The Chiefs will be a very interesting game just because of the implications of Todd Haley facing his old squad. Most crucial? I’m not so sure, but it could be a real kick in the junk to Haley and the offense if the Chiefs win big with a score like 28-3. Now, the easy answer to our question would be the games against Baltimore. The Ravens have been the Steelers most hated rival, most physical team they play all season every season, and are always in contention against the Steelers for the AFC North division. One of the two teams have won the division eight out of the last ten seasons. Both games are always epic and intense. Is one more crucial over the other? Do the Steelers need to at least win the first game at home in case they lose on the road?
The Steelers finish out the last four weeks against some teams that have enjoyed the regular season identity roller coaster. And, by enjoy I mean loathed. The San Diego Chargers visit Heinz Field in December. The Chargers always self destruct early then have a surge at the end of the season. They were 4-1 in their last five games last season, and that tends to be the norm. Will the Chargers late season surge be trouble for the Steelers? Possibly, but it’s not as crucial a game as one might think. Unless you are a citizen of Steeler Nation who really really really needs to see Phillip Rivers – the ultimate quarterback (pfffffft) – blasted back into his childhood. The Cowboys are next, and the Steelers face them in the mini-metropolitan area known as Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys are another team like the Giants who one week appear the team to beat in the NFC or lucky if Tony Romo knows how to tie his own shoes. It’s an important game, as it rounds up the Steelers time against the NFC East. By this time, the Steelers will more than likely be a bit beat up and struggling to eek out wins as the season winds down. They will need to have a better NFC East record than the Ravens if they want a shot at the division. Is this the most crucial game as the Steelers head towards the end of the season?
The last two weeks are against divisional teams. The Bengals and Browns hardly ever finish strong and very well could be licking their wounds by the time the Steelers get them for the second time around in the season. The Steelers will unquestioningly need to finish strong these last two weeks. But are any more crucial than what the entire season has already thrown at the Steelers?
Ok Nation, time to vote. What do you think is the most crucial game for the Steelers this season?