Collier: Go figure -- A year when 9 + 12 = 600

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What you keep hearing around the NFL at this time of year is that it's a numbers game, at least from the people who aren't always telling you it's a game of inches when it's really more a game of yards, and they would include Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who once said, "Football is a game of pad level."

Pad level?

What happened to inches?

So-called experts like me have to pretend to actually know what any or all this stuff means, but the general audience needn't concern itself with such platitudes.

So I'll just put it like this: If the NFL really is a numbers game, the best way to understand the season that begins this week might be to take randomly selected NFL-related numbers and try to align them with our various expectations.

Yes, seriously.

Take 600, for example, one very important number for your Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, the year in which they could become the first AFC team to win 600 games. This is the franchise's 80th season, and the 40th since Franco Harris turned its sorry fortunes inside-out with the Immaculate Reception, so another big iconic number divisible by 10 would constitute a kind of numerological holy trinity.

Or something.

The problem is, to get to 600, the Steelers need nine wins. They're 591-538-21 as the season begins, and if you think nine wins ought to be easy you probably haven't been paying a lot of attention to what's gone on since this team slunk from the playoffs on the first play of overtime in January against Denver.

A leadership vacuum, a Rubik's Cube of an offensive line, key defensive injuries, a disgruntled, then only partially gruntled Pro Bowl wideout, an unstable special-teams climate, no Steelers presence among the top 25 active NFL rushers or receivers ... hey, I could go on, but this is about numbers.

If 600 is a number you want to see this year, then here's a number you don't: 300. Especially in conjunction with this number: 64. And here's why.

Peyton Manning -- you might have heard of him -- has 63 career 300-yard passing games. He needs one more to become the record-holder by eclipsing the record of Dan Marino. If that happens Sunday in Denver, it'll be very hard for the Steelers to take the next step toward 600.

Manning also needs four touchdown passes Sunday night to tie Brett Favre for the most games with four touchdown passes in NFL history, 23. If that happens Sunday night in Denver, well, I think you're with me.

As it happens, there are plenty of additional historical numbers that you do not want to see, particularly on the date(s) that history might well be made.

Baltimore's Ray Rice can join Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history to gain 1,000 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards in a season three times. The Steelers and Ravens tangle twice inside of 15 days late in the season, so the chance you'll avoid seeing Ray Rice make statistical history aren't promising.

You have a better chance of avoiding Ray Lewis' record-breaking performance, because he needs only 28 interception return yards to set the all-time NFL record for a linebacker with 531. He might be able to pull that off before the first Steelers meeting Nov. 18, but he's not the ball-hawk he used to be, so if Ray delays history until mid-November, prepare yourself for that celebration, because Ray's not going to aw-shucks that one.

Or any one.

The news is slightly more palatable when it comes to Ed Reed, the great Ravens safety who spent at least part of the offseason wondering whether he had better things to do than chase the Lombardi Trophy and various interception records.

Reed's relevant number is 21, which is all the interception return yards he needs to surpass former Steeler Rod Woodson for the most all time, so if you're an eyewitness to that Nov. 18 at Heinz Field, it probably means Reed is going to be too late to break Everson Walls's record for the most seasons leading the NFL in interceptions (3).

Finally, now that Steelers special teams coach Al Everest has left the building for reasons still unexplained, it would appear the Steelers might again be vulnerable to the superb return talents of Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs, who makes history every time he takes a kickoff to the house, whatever that means.

The NFL has pointed out helpfully that Cribbs needs two kickoff returns for touchdowns to be the first player in league history with 10 of those. Fact is, he needs one to be the only player with nine of those, because he is the only player with eight of those.

The Steelers don't play the Browns until Thanksgiving weekend, but that doesn't help. By that time, you might get to see Cribbs become the first NFL player with 11 or 12 of those.

With all that potential history between here and late December, nine wins seems like a bit of a slog. I think the Steelers will get to nine. Ten is a different story.

Steelers - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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