NFL 2010 season preview: With so many questions, don't expect much
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Should the Steelers beat the odds and win the AFC North Division, future Hall of Fame wide receiver Hines Ward will be the first to crow.
"Nobody gave us a chance! Nobody thought we could do it."
That wouldn't be entirely true. Peter King of Sports Illustrated predicted last week that the Steelers will win Super Bowl XLV in February. He has them beating the Green Bay Packers, 33-26.
Should I mention here that King hasn't been right with a Super Bowl prediction since -- when -- 1995?
But Ward will be right about at least one person. I'm not giving the Steelers a chance this season. I don't think they can do it.
Too many questions at quarterback in the first four games. Too much uncertainty at right tackle and right cornerback. Too little depth at wide receiver and running back.
No, that's too negative.
The season isn't going to be that bad.
I predicted the Steelers would repeat as Super Bowl champions last season, make it three Super Bowls in five years and be the Team of the Decade for the 2000s.
I'm no better than King.
As comforting as that thought might be, it's hard to get past the Steelers' flaws. I know every team in the AFC North has 'em. The Baltimore Ravens' secondary has major issues and, even if they solve them, their defense is getting old. The defending division champion Cincinnati Bengals could be betrayed by their offensive line, are holding their breath that the Chad Ochocinco-Terrell Owens love-fest doesn't turn hissy and are fighting some pretty serious history. They haven't had consecutive winning seasons since 1981-82. The Cleveland Browns are ...
There isn't enough space to list those flaws.
But that doesn't change the fact the Steelers look to be a third-place team. Playoffs? I don't think so.
Strange thing is, I still imagined a winning team even after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got himself into that jackpot in the bathroom of a Milledgeville, Ga., college bar in March and was suspended for four games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich, perhaps in some combination with Dennis Dixon, was good enough to keep the Steelers standing. A 2-2 start hardly seemed unreasonable.
But then Willie Colon blew out his right Achilles tendon in June, leaving a sizable hole at right tackle. Flozell Adams is an enormous man, but he might not be big enough to fill it, at least not all season considering he's 35, in his 13th NFL season.
Then right cornerback Bryant McFadden was mediocre in training camp and missed the final two exhibition games with a torn pectoral muscle, and backup Keenan Lewis did himself no favors by playing poorly and taking two undisciplined personal-foul penalties in the exhibition game Aug. 29 against the Denver Broncos. If McFadden or Lewis isn't the answer at that cornerback spot, William Gay could be the starter. You know how that worked out last season.
Then Leftwich went down with a left knee injury in the final preseason game Sept. 2 against the Carolina Panthers. He will miss the opening game Sunday against Atlanta but could be back for the second game Sept. 19 at Tennessee, more likely for the third game Sept. 26 at Tampa Bay. At least for now, Dixon -- picked by coach Mike Tomlin to be the starter instead of more experienced Charlie Batch -- has to be the guy.
Really, how can I predict a winning record?
Anything's possible, I suppose, because of Roethlisberger. No matter what you think of him personally, he's a terrific quarterback -- a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback -- who is far down the path toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame. More than ever, he's motivated to play well and win games to make up for doing his teammates wrong by getting that four-game suspension. He's going to be fabulous when he gets back as long as he stays healthy.
But everything else has to go right for the Steelers to have much of a chance. It's not just defensive end Aaron Smith and safety Troy Polamalu, who have to avoid injuries. You saw what happened to the defense last season without them. It's wide receivers Ward and Mike Wallace. It's running back Rashard Mendenhall. Maybe most of all, it's Mendenhall because of who's behind him. Not much.
When does everything go right?
Hardly ever, I know.
7-9 it is.
First Published September 10, 2010 12:00 am