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Pittsburgh Steelers: Four epic clashes are pivotal to 2019

The Pittsburgh Steelers have retooled their roster in an attempt to return to prominence at the top of the AFC. But a slate of key matchups with strong opponents will make the season difficult.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are well on their way to returning to the playoffs in 2019 after adding some fresh blood. But first, the team will have to navigate a pretty treacherous schedule during the month of the season, including two teams that have combined to win four of the last six Super Bowls.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will square off against seven teams who made the playoffs last season. But four, in particular, should raise eyebrows for the Steelers’ faithful. There are many matchups to choose from, but the ones listed below will shape the outcome of the 2019 season in the Steel City. There are familiar faces and some new additions that could present the Steelers a big challenge.

Week 1: Sunday Night Opener at New England Patriots

The start of the 2019 season begins in a place where many seasons have come to an end, in Foxboro against the Patriots. While this game is not technically a rivalry game for Pittsburgh, it has become a bit of a showcase for the AFC’s top two teams over the past decade. And until last season, Ben Roethlisberger had failed to top the Patriots since 2011.
The sheer talent and success level of Tom Brady and Roethlisberger makes this an intriguing matchup on its own. The two quarterbacks have combined for eight Super Bowl victories and eleven Super Bowl appearances during their tenure in the NFL. As a rookie starter in 2004, Ben won his debut against Brady and Belichick, only to fall to them in the AFC Championship later that year. Thus began a history of fierce showdowns since.

Brady holds the edge in this matchup all-time at 7-3, but this episode could look quite a bit different without some of the main characters. Missing from this year’s contest will be stalwarts such as Rob Gronkowski (retired), Antonio Brown (traded) and Le’Veon Bell (free agency). However, some fresh faces such as Sony Michel, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and rookie N’Keal Harry figure to add plenty of intrigue to this battle of AFC giants.

EDGE: New England Patriots

While I hope that the team builds on their success from last season, it’s hard to imagine Belichick being defeated in the opener at home on national TV. Except for the drubbing at the hands of the Chiefs in 2017, the Patriots seem to prepare well for these types of games. The game will be close as always, but Brady should pull this one out in the end. Look for young Harry to play a significant role, as the Steelers secondary continues their struggles.

Week 10: Potential shootout at home against Los Angeles Rams

Speaking of playoff teams, Week 10 features a game against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams represented the NFC in the Super Bowl, where the previously mentioned Patriots defeated them. This matchup also features two teams that placed in the top four of the entire NFL in total offense. The Rams finished behind only Kansas City offensively with 6,738 yards, and the Steelers were fourth with a combined 6,453 yards. The passing attacks feature multiple 1,000-yard receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods. This game has the potential to be a big-time shootout and one of the highest scoring contests of 2019.

The quarterback matchup here is the most intriguing aspect of the game. Both Ben Roethlisberger and Jared Goff also placed in the top five in passing yards and topped 30 passing touchdowns. This game will be a real showcase of young versus old with the veteran Roethlisberger and the up-and-coming gunslinger out of California. The teams also feature two solid running games to match the elite passing attacks. Todd Gurley has been one of the top backs in the NFL since entering the league in 2014, while James Conner eclipsed over 1,300 total yards in his first season as the starter.

While the winner will likely have no bearing on the outcome of the AFC or NFC, the entertainment value will be tremendous. And fans will also get a chance to see a potential Super Bowl matchup toward the mid-point in the NFL season. With all the rivalries and big AFC matchups the Steelers will face, this game may be the most entertaining. The last time these two teams met, it was a low-scoring affair with Nick Foles at quarterback for the Rams. Since then, Foles has famously won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles and is now the starting quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell starred for the Steelers in that win. This game will have a much different feel and should keep fans at the edge of their feet until the final whistle.

EDGE: Pittsburgh Steelers

The talent level on these two teams will be evident. The Rams may have a slight edge in terms of overall talent, but it is no secret they are a better team at home. For this reason, Pittsburgh can outgun and outlast Los Angeles in the Steel City. This showdown should be a memorable one and give Steelers’ fans some hope for the stretch run.

Week 11: First battle with the new-look Browns in Cleveland

The first meeting between the Steelers in the new-look Browns comes in Week 11 on Thursday Night Football. This matchup is a bitter rivalry and the addition of Baker Mayfield last season proved to add fuel to this fire. Fast forward a year later, and some other new additions could add more spice to this heated grudge match between AFC North foes.

This offseason, Cleveland traded for Giants’ star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and also signed former 2017 rushing champion Kareem Hunt. Beckham will team with former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry to cause significant concerns for Pittsburgh’s secondary. You can hear more about the Odell trade here. An important note about Hunt is that his suspension ends after eight games. That will put him in line to join the Cleveland backfield just before their matchup with the rival Steelers and reacclimate him to full contact.

Pittsburgh’s 2018 season concluded at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers stood by and watched Cleveland fall to Baltimore and effectively end their playoff hopes. The team hopes to take matters into their own hands in 2019 and decide their fate. If they can defeat this improved Browns team during their first matchup, this will prove the Steelers are a genuine contender for the Lombardi trophy.

EDGE: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland gave Pittsburgh all they could handle last season and figure to be an even more significant challenge in 2019. However, at home and with the big additions made this offseason, the Browns should have the advantage. The troubling theme of a weak Pittsburgh secondary could lead to a big day for Mayfield and company.

Week 17: Road finale leads to familiar battle at Baltimore

As mentioned previously, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season ends in the same place it did in last season. The Baltimore Ravens may not be the ugliest of grudge matches for the Steelers, but it typically proves to be the most daunting. For the last decade plus, the teams were both seemingly built on great running games and a stout defense. More recently, the focus has been on the offense on both sides. The face of the Ravens talented young offense is a second-year pro, Lamar Jackson. Big Ben remains the face of the Steelers, but guys like JuJu and Conner figure to play an important outcome in this game and many others.

Jackson was only a part-time player during the two meetings last season, so 2019 will be his first taste of the rivalry in its entirety. The sophomore went 6-1 during his first seven regular season starts but fell to the Chargers during Wild Card Weekend. This grudge match is another tasty matchup which includes a veteran and an up-and-comer at the quarterback position. There are some definite similarities between this Ravens team and the team that Roethlisberger engineered to an AFC North title and AFC Championship appearance in his rookie year.

To focus on the obvious, the 2004 Steelers and current Ravens featured rookie quarterbacks. The running games were also a big focus for both sides. While the Steelers rode a Hall-of-Famer in Jerome Bettis during his twilight seasons, the Ravens chose to highlight this strength of Jackson in a potent rushing attack. The defenses were also a great strength of these teams, and the safety play of both Eric Weddle and Troy Polamalu drove their successes immensely. While this matchup may look quite a bit different than past meetings, the competition and intensity levels will be high. And like many previous meetings, this game could determine the fate of the top team in the AFC North. The storyline of the rookie and the vet will likely determine the outcome of this matchup and future of these teams in the AFC Playoff race.

EDGE: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have the edge at quarterback considering the experience of Big Ben. Also worth noting is that Baltimore lost some key pieces on defense including C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and Za’Darius Smith. While they may have added some key pieces like Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram, that won’t be enough to top the Steelers. This game will be close, but I expect the Roethlisberger-led Steelers to pull this one out in the end.

 

Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter!

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