Wednesday Apple Pie

A storm is set to hit Heinz Field on September 11 at 1 pm, and it's not the type that anyone would expect from a squad that went 15 - 1 and starred the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. This storm is the flurry of fan frustration over a team that, based on its first three pre-season games and its camp, will have a harder time scoring than Heidi Fleiss at the Pegasus.

Here is what we know or believe to know so far.

  • Hines Ward may be the only legitimate receiving threat this season and if things don't drastically change soon, this team won't have a legitimate threat next season.
  • Cedrick Wilson is playing so poorly in pre-season games that Antwaan Randle El somehow is still the starter.
  • Ben Roethlisberger doesn't seem to be comfortable without Plaxico Burress in the game (they were great friends and that type of chemistry goes a long way in terms of comfort levels on the field).
  • It was reported here that Roethlisberger seems to be aiming the ball to a spot. From what I've seen, it seems the 2nd year starter also is afflicted with a "scared" arm, one that is making a lot of hesitating, jolting movements. It may take a few interceptions to get the kid into any sort of rhythm.
  • Jerome Bettis is better off taking the first two months of the season off.
  • Willie Parker has consistently been the top offensive performer for this team throughout the pre-season, yet it took an injury to get him to starting job. There is something wrong with that logic, but that's the world of Bill Cowher.
  • Troy Polamalu will have a huge year, but everyone will remember only his costly mistakes.
  • Ken Whisenhunt is proving to once again be far too conservative with his quarterback. Just once could we see a deep throw to see if either Randle El or Wilson can be a threat?
  • This offense is looking a lot like the post-Yancey Thigpen offense of 1998 and that's a scary thing. People will tell you it's because Plaxico Burress left and perhaps in a small way that is true (see above).

    One thing that the offense cannot afford to do is lose its fans too early. The first game, Roethlisberger will have about 3 full offensive drives to score a touchdown before the boo birds fly in and chants for Tommy Maddox echo out into the Ohio River. But, why so early? Why would fans drop Roethlisberger after three consecutive failed drives in the first game of the season?

    It is all in the name of a Super Bowl. The fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers don't love their players as much as they love their team winning a Super Bowl. They don't care if a player is a starter or not; if that player is producing, someone else could be doing it better.

    This is one issue that Roethlisberger and Willie Parker should both take note of. Fans here will forever remember your mistakes (Neil O'Donnell, 3 INTs in the Super Bowl) rather than your great achievements (Neil O'Donnell, All-Time lowest attempt/interception ratio in the NFL).

    Roethlisberger, after one season of going 15 - 1 and having a poor playoff series, has been labeled a legitimate choker. Forget that chokers usually are consistent and are usually allowed a few seasons of let-down before gaining that title. But not in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, if he doesn't lead the Steelers to a touchdown within the first three drives on September 11, his fate will be sealed. And with a budding exceptional career ahead of him, there is just so much wrong with that.

    AFC North Mini-Preview

    Pittsburgh Steelers - Unless you have been living in cave, I don't need to repeat much here. However, I will make one point. If the Steeler defense cannot find a way to shore up the middle of the field, the secondary will be in for a long season.

    Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens signed Derrick Mason and drafted Mark Clayton in an urgent attempt to prove that the drafting of Kyle Boller wasn't a huge mistake. The Ravens have yearly had the ingredients for a championship team: great defense and strong running game. But one player continually keeps this team from more trophies and his name is Kyle Boller. He will do the same this year, proving that he indeed is not an NFL-caliber starting quarterback.

    Cincinnati Bengals - Marvin Lewis' squad, again on the cusp of turning the corner, sat at home in January. Why? Defense. Which is surprising because Marvin Lewis earned his fame by coordinating the Super Bowl defense of the Baltimore Ravens. They won't win the division, but the Bengals have the offense, hunger and perhaps this year barely enough defense to make the playoffs.

    Cleveland Browns - Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou wins? Mr. Crennel, I pray for your soul.

    Predictions AFC North

    Pittsburgh Steelers: 12 - 4
    Cincinnati Bengals:10 - 6
    Baltimore Ravens:7 - 9
    Cleveland Browns: 3 - 13

    AFC East Mini-Preview

    New England Patriots - The Patriots once again are kings of their world. However, they lost both coordinators and their heart and soul in Tedy Bruschi. Fans and players alike applaud the Patriots for being the smartest team in the NFL, yet Bruschi considered playing this season after a stroke that could have killed him. Come whatever, this team still has Tom Brady. THE Tom Brady who has yet to lose a playoff game. THE Tom Brady who is the best big game quarterback in the NFL today. They'll be just fine.

    NY Jets - Is must be hard always looking up and finding the foot of the New England Patriots continually prepared stomp. The Jets think they have the offensive power and aggressive play-calling figured out with the firing of Paul Hackett and the return of Laveranues Coles. The Jets think Chad Pennington's shoulder will cause him no problems this year. The Jets think that Curtis Martin has one more good full season in him without the help of LaMont Jordan. The Jets think Ty Law will regain his form and once again be the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback. The Jets think they are now the team to beat in the division. But there is only one thing they know. The open door to the Super Bowl has one year left on its warranty. It's do or die in the land of Gang Green.

    Miami Dolphins - Mr. Saban, we are so happy you have decided to join our legendary franchise. We believe you have all the skills and leadership to lead us to the Super Bowl. Although we thought your two predecessors, Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannestedt, also had those qualities, neither were able to bring us the "bling", as the kids are calling it nowadays. Mr. Williams has been in touch with you I believe? Good, we will let him come back because, well, don't tell anyone this, we are whores for a championship. We are willing to sell our souls to Satan if the Lombardi trophy can sweat in the Miami sun. I sold my first born last week to a man who said he knew the brother-in-law of Bill Belichick's brother-in-law and he promised me secrets. You can have whatever you want. A what? A new franchise quarterback? Why do we need one of those? We had one for over 14 years and you see where that got us.

    Buffalo Bills - One of the biggest complaints about the Bills last season was the over-reliance on their running game, sometimes "turtling" to the end zone. Where have we heard that phrase before? It's no surprise that Mike Mularkey is a disciple of the Bill Cowher "Way". The Bills this year will once again be able to bully opposing defensive lines with Willis McGahee, but rookie J.P. Losman will find opposing defenses a little confounding at times.

    Predictions AFC East
    New England Patriots: 11 - 5
    NY Jets:12 - 4
    Buffalo Bills: 9 - 7
    Miami Dolphins:4 - 12

    AFC South Mini-Preview

    Indianapolis Colts - As poor as the Steeler offense has looked this pre-season, the Colts look even worse. I say even worse because judging by past performance the Manning and his wide receivers are suffering from poor throws, dropped balls and a porous offensive line. This could be the season that the Colts realize that the door to the Super Bowl is shut, but I somehow doubt that this offense will continue to have its woes into Week 3.

    Jacksonville Jaguars - Team Prisco has all but been crowned AFC South champion by its number one fan. Why? Well, because Byron Leftwich has proven to be an accurate if not flashy or mobile quarterback; Matt Jones gives this team a legitimate big-play guy in the passing game; and Fred Taylor could once again be the best running back in football. I say could because he can never stay healthy. Yet this team still relies to much on an aging Jimmy Smith and a defense that tired down the stretch. Give them at least another year, Team Prisco.

    Houston Texans - The Texans have their version of the Big Three, albeit the poor man's version. David Carr, Andre Johnson and Dominick Davis - Here is a threesome that has the potential to put up some serious points, but alas the offensive line is down-right offensive. David Carr spent more time on his back than Jessica Simpson did during her last concert tour. It is amazing that Carr still hasn't suffered a career-threatening injury.

    Tennessee Titans - The Tennessee Titans refuse to use the word "rebuilding", as if the word admits surrender. The Titans are indeed rebuilding per se, but on the field they have turned to back-ups and the hopes that Steve McNair can build a special trust with Drew Bennett. Well, Bennet is no Derrick Mason; Travis Henry is just a shell of what he used to be; and the Titans would have been better off gutting the team and starting over with a few franchise players, like running back Chris Brown.

    AFC South Predictions

    Indianapolis Colts:10 - 6
    Jacksonville Jaguars: 10 - 6
    Houston Texans:7 - 9
    Tennessee Titans: 5 - 11

    AFC West Mini-Preview

    San Diego Chargers - Antonio Gates has been a major distraction for the Bolts but this team still has enough offensive firepower to do some damage into the post-season. The questions are whether Drew Brees can continue his efficient play, LaDanian Tomlinson can stay healthy all season, and if the Marty Schottenheimer will allow his players to try to win games instead of playing not to lose.

    Denver Broncos - I didn't like the Broncos all pre-season and then I saw Mike Anderson run. And run. And run. And I saw the Broncos really take it hard to the Colts. And I saw Jake Plummer throwing crisp passes to Ashley Lelie and Rod Smith and I thought, maybe, maybe this team is for real this season. Jason "The Bronco Fan" should be ready for a special season.

    Kansas City Chiefs - If there is one problem the Chiefs have it is that they rely too much on Priest Holmes - the same Priest Holmes who for the second straight year has not been able to remain healthy a full season. He is still one of the top 3 running backs in the league, but without a healthy Holmes or a stout defense the Chiefs will once again disappoint their faithful.

    Oakland Raiders - The Raiders were my pre-season pick to surprise the NFL because of the outstanding possibilities on offense. Kerry Collins regained his 2000 form and the team added Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan to bolster a sputtering offense. Then I looked at the defense and the division and I didn't like what I saw. Not one bit. I'm retracting my pick. The Raiders are in for another long season.

    Predictions AFC West

    Denver Broncos:11 - 5
    San Diego Chargers:9 - 7
    Kansas City Chiefs: 9 - 7
    Oakland Raiders: 6 - 10

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