The NFL is sneaky.
There’s a dirty little secret that hardly anybody talks about, and it plays a good-sized role in the parity that has served the league so well for the last 45 years or so.
How many times, in any of the NFL previews you have read did you see any mention of the differences in schedules for the teams that are being evaluated?
The Steelers will be rewarded for their 8-8 record and third-place finish in the AFC North with a third-place schedule. The Ravens will pay a price for having the nerve to finish first in the division.
What does that mean for the coming season?
The Steelers play the Raiders on the road this season. The Raiders stink and finished third in the AFC West.
The Ravens open the season in Denver against a team that is considered a serious Super Bowl contender.
The Steelers open their season against the Tennessee Titans, another team that isn’t expected to be very good.
The Ravens get the Houston Texans, another Super Bowl contender. The Titans finished third in the AFC South with a 6-10 record, and the Texans went 12-4 and won the division.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who finished second in the AFC North, will play the Chargers in San Diego, and their opponent from the AFC South will be the Indianapolis Colts. On paper, that’s another advantage for the Steelers.
Things change from year to year, and what looks like a tough opponent in July can end up being an easy one in November, but there is definitely a method to the NFL’s parity madness. and the system will reward the Steelers for being mediocre last year.
So, what’s the big deal about two games?
The difference between 9-7 and 11-5 could be the difference between not making the playoffs and getting a bye in the first round.
So, one team’s 8-8 may not be any worse than another team’s 10-6. On paper.
• The 2013 Steelers look like another 8-8 team.
Last season, they had trouble scoring touchdowns, and this season, they have to find a way to make up for the loss of Mike Wallace, a guy who scored eight of them. And he wasn’t their best receiver in 2012.
Heath Miller was and, even though he’s been walking without a limp in training camp, it’s unrealistic to expect a guy who blew out three knee ligaments to be back any sooner than the middle of October. He also had eight touchdown catches last season.
Ben Roethlisberger will be starting the season minus the 1,670 yards and 16 touchdowns that Wallace and Miller got for him last year. Who on the current roster is going to pick up that slack?
The Steelers finished as the third-best team in the AFC North last season and, despite the easier schedule, they look like a team that’s going to finish there again.
If they split their division games, which is a reasonable expectation, they would have to go 7-3 in their other 10 games to finish with 10 wins. I think 5-5 is more likely.
• I lost count of the number of “experts” who have said that the Steelers will be OK as long as Ben Roethlisberger is their quarterback.
That’s just not true. It’s not true of any quarterback.
Roethlisberger is one of the best scramblers ever, and he will make plenty of plays out of nothing if they let him. But quarterbacks can only overcome so much. Receivers are going to find it harder to get open without Wallace and/or Miller, and for Roethlisberger to be as good as he was last year, he’s going to have to be better than he was last year because he’s just not going to have the weapons.
• Mike Tomlin is now on twitter (@coachtomlin).
What could go wrong there?
This is the age of social media, and Tomlin has every right to wade into the Twittersphere. And I know there are other coaches tweeting, but I think the Steelers’ head coach should be above the fray.
One of the best things about Chuck Noll was his total lack of interest in drawing attention to himself. If I’m not mistaken, he did one commercial in his 23 years as Steelers head coach. He probably didn’t do 23 live interviews in 23 years. Noll thought that stuff was for the players. I know: Times have changed. But some principles never change.
• As much as I would enjoy Alex Rodriguez not getting the $80 million still owed him by the Yankees, I’m rooting for him to get every penny. It’s what the Yankees deserve for giving someone his age a 10-year, $275 million contract.
• Detroit became the largest municipality in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy several days ago. Not long after that, city and state leaders announced that the Red Wings would be getting $284 million in tax revenue to build a new arena.
Forbes Magazine says the Red Wings’ owner, Mike Illitch, who also owns the Tigers and their new ballpark, is worth $2.7 billion. I guess you get what you vote for.