Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule 2014: Win-Loss Predictions for Every Game

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVApril 23, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule 2014: Win-Loss Predictions for Every Game

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    Gene J. Puskar

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off of two straight 8-8 seasons and two straight years with no playoff appearances. The hope is that they can turn this trend around in 2014 and return to form as one of the AFC's most formidable teams.

    With the 2014 schedule being released on Wednesday night, it seemed like a good time to take an early look at each of the Steelers' upcoming matchups for the year and make a few predictions. While things will change—the draft is next month and the offseason program can yield many surprises—it's still possible to put forth a few educated guesses on how the year may shape up.

    Here are win-loss predictions for the Steelers' 2014 season.

Week 1: Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    While the Steelers roster has already seen some major changes, like the release of linebacker LaMarr Woodley and the loss of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, their changes pale in comparison to those of the rival Cleveland Browns.

    The Browns yet again have a new head coach and front office after a disappointing 4-12 finish and, as of now, don't yet know who their starting quarterback will be. With 10 picks in the upcoming draft, they could inject the roster with both youth and talent, but such a young team with an all-new coaching staff will be at a disadvantage in Week 1 in Pittsburgh against the experienced Steelers.

    The Browns should have an improved pass-rush, but the Steelers should respond with one of their more stable and better-coached offensive lines in years. The run game also seems poised to benefit from Mike Munchak coaching the line and Le'Veon Bell having a year of experience to his name.

    As long as the Steelers can find the end zone and not have to battle the Browns with just field goals, this win seems to be an easy win for Pittsburgh to earn.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 21-10

     

Week 2: Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

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    Gail Burton

    Kickoff Time: 8:25 PM (Thursday Night Football)

    Network: CBS

     

    Though there is plenty of time for things to change, right now the Steelers look like the better on-paper team over the Baltimore Ravens for 2014. But on paper is different than on the football field, especially on Baltimore's home turf, where the team rarely loses.

    Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is inconsistent, but he's able to have big games—especially in prime time—that carry his team to a win. And the defense remains formidable even though some of its household names have either moved on or retired. 

    All it will take for the Steelers is just one mistake. All it will take for the Ravens are a few clutch kicks by Justin Tucker. It can often be the little things that determine a win or a loss, and at M&T Bank Stadium this season, the Steelers will fail to execute them just enough to fall to the Ravens in Week 2.

     

    Prediction: Ravens, 14-10

Week 3: Steelers at Carolina Panthers

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM ET (Sunday Night Football)

    Network: NBC

     

    Thanks to a strong defense and an improved offense led by quarterback Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers took hold of the NFC South last year with a 12-4 record. 

    Things could be a little different this year, with Newton undergoing ankle surgery in March and his top veteran receiver, Steve Smith, now with the Baltimore Ravens. But the Panthers should still be able to move the ball well on the ground and the defense doesn't appear poised to lose a step.

    The Panthers have also built quite the home-field advantage for themselves, losing just one game at home last year. The stars seem thus to be aligning against the Steelers when they pay the Panthers a visit in Week 3. 

    Even with an improved offensive line and scheme, it's going to be hard for the Steelers protection to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright against a Panthers defense that registered 60 sacks last year. Antonio Brown may be the Steelers' best offensive weapon, but Roethlisberger is going to have a world of trouble trying to find enough time to get the football to him.

    The Steelers do have a good defense, but the Panthers' is just that much better and more aggressive. That will be a major advantage for Carolina, one the Steelers won't be able to overcome.

     

    Prediction: Panthers, 16-10

Week 4: Steelers vs. Tampa Bay Buccanneers

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: FOX

     

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping for a bit of stability to take hold this year with Lovie Smith as their new head coach and Josh McCown their presumed starter (for not, at least) at quarterback. But transitions take time and the Steelers in particular are masterful at getting the better of a team trying to rebuild its identity.

    McCown completed 66.5 percent of his passes in 2013, and threw 13 touchdowns to just one interception. However, that was under the tutelage of Chicago Bears head coach (and quarterback whisperer) Marc Trestman. Surely, McCown has retained much of what he's learned, but in a different environment, with different coaches and receivers, and things could be quite different this year.

    The Buccaneers aren't lacking talent on either offense or defense. What they will lack, however, when they meet the Steelers in Week 4, is time to put everything together. The road is an unforgiving place for a team still building trust and chemistry, and Heinz Field in particular is not a place to discover it.

    The Steelers simply are a more prepared team to take on Tampa Bay than Tampa is to face them. As long as they play aggressively and confidently, there will be little reason to believe the Buccaneers can come into town and win.

     

    Predictions: Steelers, 30-17

Week 5: Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a quiet nemesis of the Steelers, with the Jaguars winning 12 of the 22 games the teams have played against one another. And though the Jaguars have been one of the NFL's basement-dwellers as of late, their fortunes may be turning this year.

    Jacksonville has spent this offseason addressing areas of need and filling them smartly with free agents. Should this work—and should this pattern continue through next month's draft—this could be a dangerous team for a veteran group like the Steelers. Any time any team underestimates its opponent spells trouble and if the Steelers head to Jacksonville expecting an easy out, they could be in for a surprise.

    The Steelers have struggled in recent seasons against opponents they are "supposed" to beat, like the Oakland Raiders. This road contest against the Jaguars could be yet another of those meetings, but with a twist: Jacksonville could easily be way better in 2014 than anyone expects. The Steelers could get caught in Week 5.

     

    Prediction: Jaguars, 13-7

Week 6: Steelers at Cleveland Browns

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    The road is never an easy place to win, but the Steelers have had just three road losses to the Cleveland Browns since the year 2000. Yes, it's a windy and cold locale, but the Steelers have had their rivals' number for a while and that doesn't seem poised to let up in 2014. 

    The Steelers will of course need to watch out for breakout Browns receiver Josh Gordon no matter who is throwing him the ball—he had a record-setting season in 2013 with three quarterbacks under center. However, the team could be forced into one-dimensionality if their run game cannot improve from last year. 

    The Steelers, on the other hand, seem ready to improve as a rushing team and better able to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger protected. The Browns won't be stingy with the pass-rush, but the Steelers have the talent and experience advantage both on the roster and on the coaching staff to lead them to a win.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 17-13

Week 7: Steelers vs. Houston Texans

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    Eric Gay

    Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM ET (Monday Night Football)

    Network: ESPN

     

    Injuries and sub-par quarterback play were part of the story of the Houston Texans' atrocious 2-14 campaign in 2013. Based on the talent level of their current roster, they should have a better 2014, but by how much is the question.

    The Texans have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft and the position they choose to use the selection on could play a huge part in how the team fares this year. But, regardless of whether that means they have a rookie quarterback under center or a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick, neither seem well-suited to come to Pittsburgh and best the Steelers. 

    The real test will be against Houston's defense, led by monster defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt cannot do it alone, as last season illustrated, but a healthier defense overall could make things difficult for Ben Roethlisberger and company.

    Can the Texans shake off the stink of 2013 and bounce back by the time they face the Steelers in Week 7? Right now, it just doesn't feel like it. The Steelers should get a decisive win in the first of two Monday Night Football contests of the season.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 23-13

Week 8: Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 4:25 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    The Indianapolis Colts were giant-killers in 2013, defeating the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs in the regular season and the Chiefs again in the playoffs before falling in the divisional round to the New England Patriots.

    This they accomplished with a second-year quarterback, a poorly-thought-out trade for running back Trent Richardson and a questionable offensive line. As long as the team can correctly identify and ameliorate their roster deficiencies this offseason, they'll likely only get better.

    While the Steelers project to be a better team this year—and certainly find themselves back in the playoffs after a two-year absence—what the Colts have steadily become since drafting Andrew Luck in 2012 will be a bit too much for them. There's no shame in being one of the Goliaths the Colts' David fells; the Steelers could be in position to exact their revenge in the postseason.

     

    Prediction: Colts, 27-17

Week 9: Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM ET (Sunday Night Football)

    Network: CBS

     

    Both the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens need to have bounce-back seasons in 2014, which means the tough, physical rivalry between the two teams will be renewed with a greater fire. However, the Ravens have a lot of roster questions that need answered in the coming months, and how successful they are at doing so will have much to do with the outcome of this game.

    In 2013, the Ravens offensive line was terrible and the result was a franchise low in rushing yards, with 1,328 and quarterback Joe Flacco's career high in sacks, with 48. And there are still issues on the line that need to be resolved even though they were able to keep left tackle Eugene Monroe and trade for center Jeremy Zuttah.

    If the Ravens cannot run the ball well again this year, nor keep Flacco protected, it's going to be bad new for Baltimore's offense when they face the Steelers defense in Week 9. In contrast, the Steelers look to have improved on offense, even before the draft helps shine more light on their plans for this year.

    As usual, this game will be won in the trenches. And right now, the advantage on both offensive and defensive fronts lean Pittsburgh's way. The home-field advantage doesn't hurt matters, either.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 20-13

Week 10: Steelers at New York Jets

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    The New York Jets focused much of their offseason attention at improving their atrocious offense. They added quarterback Michael Vick to compete with (or at least mentor) second-year passer Geno Smith and brought in receivers Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford. But will it be enough?

    The Steelers come to town in Week 10 ready to face a Rex Ryan-coached Jets team with which they are mightily familiar despite how different both teams' rosters will be when they meet. On both sides of the ball, the Steelers have the advantage—though New York's defense will likely test Ben Roethlisberger's mettle a few times. 

    This on-paper advantage may not be enough for the Steelers to blow out the Jets when on the road, but it should manage to carry them to a victory regardless. The Jets are on shaky ground even though they've taken steps to improve their lot. Both teams are trying to return to relevance this year but the Steelers should do a better job of it.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 21-17

Week 11: Steelers at Tennessee Titans

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM ET (Monday Night Football)

    Network: ESPN

     

    The Steelers have faced the Tennessee Titans every year since 2008, with each team winning three games and the Titans emerging victorious the last two seasons. The time seems to be right for the Steelers to head into Tennessee and come out with a win.

    It's not just about numbers, though. It's about roster talent, which the Titans simply do not have as of this writing. The offense is a question mark, with young, unproven receivers and a young, unproven quarterback in Jake Locker. The line may have taken a step back with the addition of tackle Michael Oher and the run game presently appears to be led by Dexter McCluster and Shonn Greene.

    In an offense-driven league, it's hard to compare Locker to Ben Roethlisberger, Greene to Le'Veon Bell or Kendall Wright to Antonio Brown. The Steelers' trio of offensive playmakers simply seem capable of scoring more points than their Titans' counterparts. It also doesn't seem like the Titans can field a defense on the same level as the Steelers.

    The Titans are a hurdle the Steelers need to clear in Week 10 in order to stay on track for the postseason. The Monday Night Football matchup prior to the bye week is perfect timing to do just that.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 27-17

Week 13: Steelers vs. New Orleans Saints

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    Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: FOX

     

    The New Orleans Saints may be thinking "Super Bowl or bust" this year, with their starting quarterback, Drew Brees, now 35 years old and the NFC South becoming an increasingly difficult division to win in. This sense of desperation could fuel a Saints resurgence in 2014, but it could also be their undoing.

    The last time the Steelers and Saints met, it was 2010 and the Steelers lost, 20-10. However, that game was played in the Superdome; this year, it will be at Heinz Field. This home-field advantage cannot be understated. If this game were to be played in New Orleans, the Steelers' battle would be far more of an uphill climb.

    Clearly, the way to a Pittsburgh victory is by limiting how effective Brees can be as a passer, either by disrupting his receivers or by bringing pressure. Brees has had over 5,000 yards passing in each of the last three years. And if not, he must be outplayed by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense in Week 13. 

    At this late point in the season, both the Steelers and Saints could be making big playoff pushes. This could spell more trouble for the Saints than the Steelers, however, with the possibility of inclement weather affecting the visiting dome team. 

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 26-17

     

Week 14: Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    While the Steelers look to be an improved team this season, they still have a hurdle to jump that may be too high—the Cincinnati Bengals, reigning AFC North champions.

    The Bengals don't appear to have lost any steam despite both coordinators, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer, accepting head coaching jobs elsewhere. Their ability to promote their successors from within means continuity and stability that other teams in a similar situation don't often boast.

    The question really is Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and whether or not he'll take a leap. Dalton is mistake-prone, especially under pressure, and his short-passing accuracy is also needing development. There's no question that three-time Super Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the better of the two, but the supporting cast on both sides of the ball tips in Cincinnati's favor.

    If Dalton is comfortable, Cincinnati's offense should run relatively smoothly against the Pittsburgh defense. Cincinnati's defensive front is more than capable of shutting down Le'Veon Bell, while the same might not be the case for Pittsburgh's defense against Gio Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. And as long as Cincinnati's secondary can keep dangerous Steelers receiver Antonio Brown under wraps, the visiting team should walk away victorious.

     

    Prediction: Bengals, 31-21

Week 15: Steelers at Atlanta Falcons

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    No one could have expected the Atlanta Falcons' 2013 collapse that ended with a 4-12 record. Injuries, particularly on offense, combined with an underperforming defense took one of the previous year's Super Bowl favorites into the league's basement.

    Can they bounce back? If the psychological sting of 2013 combines with an inability to improve in key areas, like offensive line, then the Steelers should be able to take their road show to Atlanta and emerge with the win.

    However, when the Falcons are firing on all cylinders they are indeed a playoff-caliber team. The same can also be said about the Steelers, of course, which makes this Week 15 matchup all the more interesting to examine.

    It all comes down to protection, particularly how the Falcons' line holds up against the Steelers pass rushers and how well it can open holes for the run game. If it is still shoddy, as it was last year, the Steelers should have little trouble shutting down Matt Ryan and Steven Jackson

    The upcoming draft and the summer should shed some light on how much improvement the Falcons have managed to make. At this point, however, they seem to still be dealing with many of the same problems that doomed their 2013 season. And, if that holds up by December when the Steelers come to town, Pittsburgh should add another checkmark in the win column.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 21-16

Week 16: Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM ET

    Network: CBS

     

    The Kansas City Chiefs exploded out of the gate last year, winning all of their first nine games. Things slowed after their Week 10 bye, however, with the team notching only two wins in their final seven contests and then going one-and-done in the postseason.

    The Chiefs still look to be a good team this year, helmed by head coach Andy Reid, quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles and a brutalizing and physical defense. But will they be the havers of a multi-game win streak when they head to Pittsburgh in Week 16, or will they be in a slump just as they were at the end of last season?

    The truth likely lies somewhere in between both extremes, but the edge in this matchup goes to the Steelers. It would be one thing were Pittsburgh traveling to the blisteringly-loud Arrowhead Stadium, but the Chiefs can be quelled on the road by the upward-trending Steelers.

    Taming Smith shouldn't be as difficult as evading the Chiefs' pass rush or keeping Charles contained, but it won't be impossible for the Steelers to accomplish all three. This isn't this team's first rodeo against a multifaceted opponent. This psychological edge can do a lot to propel the Steelers to a win.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 30-10

Week 17: Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM

    Network: CBS

     

    Usually, the road is the difficult place to play, but for the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, the narrative is a bit different. In their last 15 meetings in Cincinnati, the Steelers have been victorious 12 times.

    Granted, anything can happen but this pattern is hard to ignore, even if the Steelers did not win against the Bengals in Cincinnati last year. The Bengals are still a tough-to-beat team with a lot going for them on both sides of the ball (and special teams) but the history wins out when we're making predictions for the final game of the season in April.

    The Bengals gave up touchdowns on opponent red zone appearances just 42.11 percent of the time last year, while the Steelers managed to scores six points on only 42.31 percent of their red zone appearances when on the road. However, what could help them this year is the presence of goal-line back LeGarrette Blount and the absence of defensive end Michael Johnson for the Bengals.

    The Steelers didn't make the most of their red-zone opportunities last year, which helped lead them to an 8-8 record and a 20-10 loss in Cincinnati. This year, they'll get the problem under control en route to a close victory. The Bengals' home record to the Steelers will drop to 13 losses and three wins since 2000.

     

    Prediction: Steelers, 17-14