12-4. I'm tempted to step out even further on the ledge and go 13-3, but two games against the Ravens + a road trip to Indianapolis + a Week 9 home tilt against New England make me think better. I must say though, this Steelers squad looks like it might be scary good. Sure the offensive line has some big question marks (but that's nothing new is it?) and the secondary will still give up its fair share of completions and yards through the air -- particularly against the league's top-tier quarterbacks. But provided James Harrison rounds back into form following two offseason back surgeries (he's looked out of sorts and a step slower and not quite as unfathomably strong so far this preseason), the defense will once again be one of the league's stingiest.
And on offense, the Steelers look as dangerous as they've been since, well, maybe ever? A lot depends on Maurkice Pouncey being able to stay healthy and the rest of the offensive line playing near or at the same level as it did a year ago. But if the Steelers get those two things from their line than look out NFL -- the running game will be wear you down if you spend too much capital trying to defend the pass; and conversely, if you put seven in the box, Big Ben and his playmakers at WR and TE are going to light you up.
Best Game On The Schedule
Lots of acceptable answers here but I'm going with Week 1 at Baltimore. One of the best modern rivalries renewed on 9/11 to start the new year after a long lockout? Sounds exciting to me. Sure there might be some rust, but it's not like these two teams are used to playing graceful, offensive beauties anyway. Week 3 @ Indy would be my close runner up.
Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year
Probably Mike Wallace but only because the expectations are sky high and opposing defenses are guaranteed to make him a primary point of their game plans each week. I sure hope this isn't the case, but James Harrison -- who was more deserving of Defensive Player of the Year last season over Troy Polamalu -- is scarily another guy whose productivity could taper off significantly.
Breakout Player Candidates
Antonio Brown sure looks like he's poised to turn heads. He's found the endzone three times in Pittsburgh's past two preseason games. Isaac Redman, a fan favorite that most fans around the country don't know about just yet, could be used more in the running game after holding his own last year and once again having a great camp this summer. Steeler Nation is really hoping that some defensive back -- be it Keenan Lewis, Crezdon Butler, Donovan Warren or Curtis Brown -- makes this list by season's end.
Best Player On The Steelers No One Has Heard Of
Since I already mentioned Redman above, let's go with Evander 'Ziggy' Hood, the Steelers 2009 first round pick out of Missouri. The reserve defensive lineman seems ready to unseat Aaron Smith at right defensive end, and he could make up for any decline in J. Harrison's effectiveness with his own ability to get after the quarterback. Of course, most former first round picks aren't unknown to knowledgeable NFL fans, but because he's not see too much action in his first two NFL seasons, I imagine his name has slipped out of the minds of most fans this past two years.
Underrated? Heath Miller, particularly after last season's ho-hum statistical season. Miller is without question one of the NFL's most reliable TE targets. As the rest of the Steelers offense continues to improve, expect Miller to have more favorable matchups in '11 and beyond.
Overrated? Probably Emmanuel Sanders. The 2010 third rounder had a nice rookie season, but even before knowledge surfaced about his lingering foot issues, I wondered whether Sanders was physical enough to survive as a regular target over the middle of the field. Don't take the personable second-year WR out of SMU in your fantasy draft too early.
Just right? Probably Rashard Mendenhall -- he's starting to get his due as one of the NFL's more consistent and solid backs, but he's not quite in that upper echelon category with guys like Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. Another season or two and he might force his way into that conversation, but he's not there just yet.
Best Media Personality In Pittsburgh
Mike Tomlin -- only problem is we don't get nearly enough of him.
Best Steelers Players To Follow On Twitter