July 07, 2006

Celebrating What Makes America Great

THIS WEEK, Americans have paid much thought to the Fourth of July’s deeper meanings. Our Independence Day reminds us of our freedom from tyranny and our freedom to pursue happiness. It reminds us that our property and capital is protected from the wicked and the strong, and that we are free to worship God in any way we please.

Now that the holiday’s done, though, I don’t suppose it would be entirely blasphemous to cheerfully note Independence Day also means it’s roughly a month until professional football starts again.

Oh, sure, it’s the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, and the game is between the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles, but the important thing is that it’s football. No longer will I have to hope my minor-league arena football team makes the playoffs; no longer will I hunt in vain for Canadian football on television. Real football, professional football – even though it’s the pre-season – will have returned!

As such, it’s a fitting time to look at this year’s prospects for the greatest football franchise ever in the history of sport, the Pittsburgh Steelers. My prediction, which all will agree is bold and daring, is that the Steelers will win the Super Bowl again this year. Furthermore, I think we’ll do so after winning the AFC North division, and knocking out the New England Patriots somewhere along the line.

It will not be an easy task. First and foremost, this is because the Steelers play in the AFC North, the toughest division out of the eight we have in the NFL.

It’s worth noting the Cincinnati Bengals actually won the AFC North last year, with an 11-5 record. Even though Carson Palmer was hurt, he’s apparently recovering well and they remain a strong squad. They’re going to want to win it again more than ever, this year, and they’d like nothing more than to prevent Pittsburgh from reaching the playoffs.

The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens also would like nothing more than to prevent the Steelers from reaching the playoffs. Like Cincinnati, these teams hate Pittsburgh and all for which it stands. Their motivations are a little different than the Bengals’ are, but nonetheless, they want to utterly crush the Steelers and run roughshod all over Heinz Field.

The trouble for Pittsburgh is that the Browns will be good this year, perhaps even very good. As the linked article notes, they got rid of their useless quarterback, Trent “Dillweed” Dilfer, and put QB Charlie Frye in the starter’s job. They got some good defensive draft picks. Furthermore, they got WR Joe Jurevicius from the Seattle Seahawks. Jurevicius is a fine wide receiver and quite capable. Perhaps the most ominous thing of all is that the Browns’ organization seems – at least from here -- to actually have its act together. This could prove problematic if the Browns go at least 8-8, as I think they will.

One can also never count out the Ravens. Although the Ravens are an evil franchise worthy only of scorn and ridicule from decent people, they play well enough to potentially trip up the Steelers at a crucial time. They certainly pose no danger this year in terms of winning the division, but could cost Pittsburgh a much-needed win along the way.

Pittsburgh will need every win it can get. The Steelers’ trouble stems from its tough division and correspondingly tough schedule. In certain divisions (*cough* AFC South *cough*), the imbalance between teams can mean an easy four, five or even six wins for a team in a sixteen-game season. Pittsburgh has NO easy wins available to it in divisional play.

But then again, neither do the other AFC North teams. However, due to the vagarities of the scheduling process, the Bengals will have the toughest schedule of all the AFC North this season! That first place finish they were so happy about last year means they’ll play the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, while Pittsburgh gets to play the much weaker Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. Heh.

All the AFC North teams will play the NFC South this year – yawn – but they’ll also play the AFC West, which will be exciting. The AFC West is the second-toughest division in football and there will be plenty of good games with all the AFC West teams.

Anyway, here’s my out-on-a-limb predictions for the AFC North. These will undoubtedly come back to haunt me:


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 7, 2006 06:57 AM | TrackBack
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