You can probably tell where my athletic allegiances have been this summer. I’ve put nearly all my sports eggs into one soccer ball-shaped basket. It’s been awesome to immerse myself into the Euros and now the domestic soccer league season. It gave this summer a newfound pep that had been a bit lost in the dog days of July in past years. Soccer is the casual girlfriend with whom I’ve recently taken things to the next level. The new fully committed relationship feels so fresh and exciting. I’m very happy.
But now here comes football. My old flame. My muse. The burning passionate love that stretches back almost 20 years. Where soccer’s new moves and gentle touches are a welcome addition, football’s bone-crunching caress pulls me back to autumnal days of chili cook outs, tailgates in Lot 9 by Comcast, and screaming into my coach pillows as Kordell Stewart blew the 2001 AFC Championship game. Ah, nostalgia.
This fall/winter will be jam packed with can’t-miss soccer matches, and don’t even get me started on college basketball and the NBA returning in November. But I’ll get to basketball at a later date. For now – football.
Tomorrow night kicks off the 2016 season with the Panthers facing off against the defending champion Broncos. Much has been made about the upheaval on offense for Denver: the departure of the legend, the discharge of a back-up who got drawn away for All Pro money. What’s left is a whole lot of inexperience. A 1st round draft pick – woefully unprepared. A butt fumbling journeyman who couldn’t win the job. And Trevor Seimian – the starter? Seimian has taken one snap in his NFL career. That one snap? A kneel down at the end of game. He’s literally never thrown a meaningful pass in a game. That’s a lot of pressure.
The rest of this weekend’s games will be a fun first look at these teams since the season
ended in a shower of Papa Johns pizzas and awkward cheek kisses in February.
Here are the gooder, the good, the tolerable, the bad, and the ugly.
Denver – Their defense is still dirty. The pressure now rests squarely on the shoulders of Super Bowl MVP and eccentric everyman Von Miller to carry what is almost assured to be an anemic offense. I think things will be just fine though despite their decision to start Edmure Tully at quarterback.
Carolina – Killa Cammm Cam. They’re gonna be good again, maybe not 15-1 good, but good.
Seattle – Gah, the Seahawks are going to be good again, too. It’s undeniable. Russell Wilson finally had sex, making him somehow even more hateable.
Green Bay – Same old Rahhhgers.
New England – Don’t worry, Belichick will figure out some type of black magic to make Garappolo not play like absolute dog shit. They’ll somehow get 3 or 4 wins without Brady and go 12-4 for the 15th straight year. It’s not fair.
Cincinnati – I expect the Red Rifle to continue his streak of stellar play. Vontaze Burfict, on the other hand, can GTFO.
Arizona – Watching All or Nothing made me love Bruce Arians even more than I did when he was in Pittsburgh. Dude uses the word “motherfucker” more efficiently than anyone ever. And literally no one wears a Kangol better than BA.
Washington – Despite Cousins loving Creed, he also happened to be the most accurate QB in the league last season and has a shiny new toy in Josh Doctson to throw to. The Skins are going to surprise people.
Oakland – Another 16 games of watching Derek Carr pitch and catch to Amari Cooper is going to be super pretty.
Kansas City – They might have what it takes to knock off Denver in the West, buuuuut I don’t trust Alex Smith. I’m sorry.
Indianapolis – Luck can’t suck as bad as he did last year right? An off season in Neck Beards Anonymous should help get his confidence back.
Houston – Brock Osweiler will be given the reigns in Houston. Good luck, pal. Live life to it’s fullest.
Tampa Bay, Tennessee – We get to see Year Two of Famous Jameis and Marcus Mariota. For better or worse.
Minnesota – New fam, new Sam. Sam Bradford most definitely will still look like a scared antelope in the pocket. Mike Zimmer’s defense is ill though. Also DIGGGGGGGGS.
Dallas – The once again Romo-less Cowboys will fight through most of the season with a quarterback who sounds like he piloted an X-wing in The Force Awakens. Watch Zeke Elliott run rampant behind that offensive line. Circle-spin, hit-stick juke all day, homie.
Philadelphia – Carson “Who?” Wentz will (of course) start immediately. Thankfully his experience playing in the Missouri Valley Conference against Western Illinois and Youngstown State has given him the skill set to thrive against NFL defenses. This dude is going to get eaten alive. Can’t wait.
Los Angeles -The Rams moved 2,000 miles away from their old home back to their older/new home just in time to go 7-9 again with Jeff Fisher for the seventh straight year.
Baltimore – Can Mariner’s Bank Joe come back and be the same? Tough to say. They’ll be better than last year if they can stay healthy. The Christmas Day game in Pittsburgh is going to be like that scene in Braveheart when Mel Gibson flashes his dick to the English and then uses a row of massive wooden spikes to impale the wave of cavalry charging at him. There. Will. Be. Blood.
Detroit – No more Megatron in Detroit. 😦
New York Jets – Let’s hope Fireman Ed returns like he did last year. No much else to say about the actual team though.
New York Giants – No more Tom Coughlin. I anticipate New York starting 1-5 and still somehow sneaking into the playoffs. Classic Eli!
Buffalo – Both Ryan brothers on the same sideline? You paid how much for Tyrod Taylor?
Jacksonville – Bortles can toss it, but they’re going to bad still. See, this team preview thing is easy!
Atlanta – The Falcons fall from their elite status in 2012 has been expeditious. Expect buku fantasy points from Julio Jones though, dude is a venus fly trap.
Chicago – I have literally heard nothing about the Bears. Didn’t even bother to google them. 3-13.
Cleveland – RGIII gets another chance at redemption with the Dog Pound ( read: the Browns are going to suck).
San Diego – The Chargers will once again play 16 straight away games. Good thing Joey Bosa got off on the right foot.
Miami – Joe Philbin was mercifully axed, but that couldn’t save Miami last year and Adam Gase (who?) won’t do much better this year. Good thing Tannehill will get paid no matter how many pick sixes he throws. Ahh, it’s great to be a QB.
New Orleans – Every single Saints game is going to be a 49-48 bloodbath. Pray for Drew Brees.
San Francisco – This team is bad and they should feel bad.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
Now to the good stuff. I, of course, am a Pittsburgh Steelers lifer. I also live in the depths of Birdland in southern Baltimore. A wolf in sheep’s clothes, I walk the streets as a black and gold shadow on the edges of your vision. Unsurprisingly, there are no Steelers bars in this city, but I’ve found a spot (shouts to City Limits) that plays not just Ravens games, but all games on a multitude of TVs. You can catch me there almost every Sunday guzzling Natty Bohs (and wishing they were IC Lights) and chowing down on some shoestring fries (and wishing they were piled high on a Primanti Bros sandwich). Come find me.
We entered the 2015 season with the most difficult schedule based on the total record of our opponents the year before. Somehow we won 10 games despite starting Landry Jones and Mike Vick in 4 games. A very satisfying victory against Cincinnati in the Wild Card round was followed by a disappointing loss versus the eventual champion Broncos. Another year that began with high hopes for a seventh Super Bowl ended in playoff disappointment. But the beauty of the game is that there’s always next year.
In 2016, the Steelers will play a second place schedule, which means our strength of schedule drops to 23rd in the league with games against the NFC East and AFC East. I’m salivating. Expectations have once again been mounting this off season. Despite a year long ban for Martavis Bryant, a
four three game suspension for Le’veon Bell, and injuries to Senquez Golson, Bud Dupree, and Ladarius Green, this team is clearly going to win a lot of games.
Another All-Pro onslaught from Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger will be enough to scrub the field with some of the leagues weakest secondaries (Ravens, Cowboys, Browns, etc) and once Bell returns in week 4 against the Chiefs the run-pass balance will be restored. While he’s out we’ll have super sub DeAngelo Williams filling in nicely. Behind Antonio Brown sit a host of young hungry wideouts ready to step into the role that should have been filled by Martavis Bryant. I expect Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, and Eli Rogers to get a ton of looks.
On defense, Ryan Shazier will be asked to become the cornerstone of the 3-4 following in long line of outside linebackers with championship pedigree. He’ll have help from Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, and the ageless and PED-free James Harrison (DEEBOOOO).
This year will also be a test for several young defensive players stepping into roles sooner than expected. This is unusual for a franchise like Pittsburgh, which is often veteran-laden and not as willing to show rookies or second year players the field before they’re actually ready. But alas those experienced players are almost all gone and we are left with a lot of raw untested talent to throw out there.
Javon Hargrave (rookie) will take over at nose tackle. Thankfully he will be flanked by Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. This group will be tough against the run. While our D-line will be reliable, there are questions in the secondary. The Golson injury hurts. This will force 2016 1st round pick Artie Burns, and 2nd rounder Sean Davis (HE A TERP) to see a great deal of playing time. The reliable, yet long-toothed pairing of William Gay and Mike Mitchell will fill out the rest of the secondary. And Browns cast-off Justin Gilbert is a low risk, high reward gamble to add more depth. If the defense can play even average football, we will be able to stay in most, if not all, of our games.
All that said, this season’s success will once again hinge almost exclusively on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. When Ben is out, we’re bad. When he’s in we’re really, really good. If we get 16 full games from him, I would not be surprised at a 12 win season and another deep run into the playoffs. #HereWeGo