When the season ended for the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple months back, I wrote that it appeared we were in for an off-season filled with upheaval. I said that because with something like a dozen unrestricted free agents, a half dozen restricted free agents and a number of overpaid veterans, it seemed a pretty safe bet the roster was going to see significant changes. I never thought those changes would extend to the coaching staff as well. Looking back, change was probably inevitable coming off such a massively disappointing season.
We knew the Steelers were losing offensive line coach Sean Kugler since he announced during the season he was leaving to become head coach at his alma mater (UTEP) at year’s end. Kugler might be the most significant loss as he’s done a tremendous job with the Black and Gold’s offensive line since replacing the awful Larry Zierlein in 2010. Every year we talk about the team’s “new look” line and every year one player goes down almost immediately with several more falling as the campaign marches on. Last year, the team used a different starting O-line combination nearly every week. The line didn’t exactly remain steady no matter who they plugged in – the run blocking, for example, fell apart when Willie Colon was lost – but the fact they could throw an untested undrafted rookie like Kelvin Beachum out there and watch him hold his own speaks well of Kugler’s coaching ability.
Kugler is being replaced by Jack Bicknell Jr. That name probably means more to college football fans than those of us who follow the NFL. Bicknell is the son of longtime Boston College head coach Jack Bicknell. Bicknell Jr. was a starting O-lineman for his dad during the Doug Flutie years before moving into coaching himself. He’s been a career OL coach with the exception of a seven year head coaching stint at Terry Bradshaw‘s alma mater, Louisiana Tech. In recent years, Bicknell Jr. was an assistant OL coach for the Giants for a few seasons before moving on to the Chiefs last season. I don’t pay attention to KC but the G-Men have had some really good lines so let’s hope he was a big part of that.
The Steelers most recent loss was wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery. The official story is Montgomery left to become offensive coordinator at Duke. However, Uncle Eddy Bouchette at the P-G in his role of unofficial PR man has floated the story (no doubt fed to him by team officials) that the team actually booted him out the door. It sounds a lot like the Bruce Arians story where instead of straight out firing BA, they encouraged him to “retire.” And like the Arians situation, word is the reason Montgomery fell out of favor with Steelers brass as they saw him as too buddy-buddy with the Young Money crew. I’m not enamored with Art Rooney II‘s idea that coaches should be hard on their players but those idiots definitely need someone who will put boots to asses.
The new WR coach is Aliquippa native Richard Mann. Mann is a 30 year veteran of the NFL coaching ranks although he has been out of the league the past three years, working as a consultant who prepares college guys for the draft. Mann prior job was as the WR coach/assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs under Raheem Morris. Mann spent 8 seasons in Tampa, several of which saw him coaching on the same staff as Mike Tomlin. During his tenure, the Bucs won a Super Bowl and had at least one 1,000 yard receiver every year except the last. He’s known as a very detail oriented guy so let’s hope he can bring some discipline to that group of underachievers.
Now, I’ve saved the best for last. The Steelers special teams were an absolute joke last season yet ST coach Amos Jones was inexplicably brought to Arizona by his old buddy Bruce Arians as the ST coordinator down there. I don’t think a single member of Steeler Nation lost sleep over that development. After reaching out to a number of candidates, the Black and Gold finally hired Washington Redskins ST coach Danny Smith. Smith, who started his coaching career at Central Catholic, has bounced around the league since then, coaching ST for the Eagles, Bills and Skins while also enjoying short stints as TE coach for the Lions and DB coach for Philly.
Interestingly, Smith was the team’s first choice back in 2010 but Washington wouldn’t let him go so we ultimately settled on Al Everest. Also, as this comprehensive look at Smith’s eight year stint in Washington mentions, he was the man in charge when Shaun Suisham endured one of his notable meltdowns. Suisham has revitalized his career here in Pittsburgh so it’ll be interesting to see if his resurgence continues under the man who oversaw one of his biggest failures. To be honest, I’d almost be willing to trade a slight drop-off in accuracy if it means a kickoff unit that doesn’t get flagged for holding on every return.
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Veteran offensive tackle Max Starks has re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Shocking, I know. Any fan rabid enough to own either a Starks or Charlie Batch jersey has made the safest investment outside of buying stock in Apple. No matter who the Steelers draft, no matter who the Steelers sign, no matter what injury should befall their man during the season, you can safely rest assured Mad Max and Chaz will be on the roster come the following year. It’s right up there with death and taxes.
I won’t bother recapping Max’s long strange journey, suffice it to say much like Michael Corleone, every time you think he’s out, the Black and Gold pull him back in. Max lost his starting RT job way back in 2007 only to reinvent himself as a LT later that year. The Steelers tagged him two consecutive years in a row before finally inking him to four year deal in 2009. He suffered what was feared to be a career-ending neck injury in 2011, leading to his release. Despite ballooning to well over 400 pounds during the off-season, Max managed to work himself back into shape in time to ride to the Steelers rescue at LT in 2012. He played quite well but ended up blowing out his ACL in the Steelers Wild Card loss to Denver leading to yet more questions about his future. Evidently rehab has gone well because the Steelers are bringing him to Latrobe in August.
This was supposed to be a transition year for the offensive line. The Steelers invested their first two 2012 draft picks in OG David DeCastro and LT Mike Adams and are expecting oft-injured RT Willie Colon back in the lineup (for about two weeks anyway). Colon is being moved to guard which left Jonathan Scott and second year man Marcus Gilbert to compete with Adams for the two tackle spots. Now with Max back in the mix, one has to wonder if the Steelers weren’t a little concerned by what they saw from those large-boned gentlemen during mini-camp.
I’ve been saying all along, I’m not totally sold on this new look o-line. Gilbert had a brief try-out at LT last season and did his best impression of a traffic cone. Scott was similarly abused during his short and ignominious tenure at LT. Rookies starting on the line isn’t that unusual but Adams was said to be a bit raw so counting on him to step in and start immediately was always a dicey proposition. The thought was if Adams wasn’t ready, perhaps Gilbert had matured enough to play LT but all the experience in the world won’t make up for slow feet. If Gilbert can’t handle the move and Adams isn’t ready, Big Ben’s blind side all of a sudden became a real danger zone.
Or it was before Mad Max returned to the fold. Welcome back, big guy. It’s like you never left.
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I love the new collective bargaining agreement. Granted, the NFL players took a golden shower on the deal but those meatheads picked their leadership so they get what they deserve. I love it because I remember back when the days following the NFL Draft were filled with strife and turmoil as scumbag agents tried to wring every last nickle they could for their clients. Revisionist history says Troy Polamalu didn’t play much as a rookie due to Dick LeBeau‘s complicated defense – which is at least partially true although I think a lot of more of his slow start is owed to the fact he missed a large part of training camp holding out.
Those days are long over. With the new CBA and its built-in contract slotting and rookie salary cap, guys get picked, signed, and into camp with little fuss. Here we are slightly less than two weeks since the draft and the Pittsburgh Steelers have already signed six of their nine picks. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu and RB Chris Rainey both signed over the weekend while TE David Paulson, CB Terence Frederick and big WR Toney Clemons made deals in the past 48 hours.
Then there’s second rounder Mike Adams, who became the Steelers’ highest pick to agree to terms when he inked a deal yesterday. Adams, you may remember, was so bummed when he heard the Steelers took him off their board for testing positive for pot at the Combine that he wrote them a groveling letter wherein he offered to defer his signing bonus for 18 months during which time he’d prove he could stay clean. According to Uncle Eddy Bouchette behind the P-G’s obnoxious pay wall, the Steelers did not take him up on the offer. So if Adams decides to wake and bake in the near future, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves.
I’m honestly rooting for the guy, though. I admit, it’s for selfish reasons. I like watching Ben Roethlisberger play and he can’t continue to do that if he gets the hell beat out him behind a paper mache offensive line. Adams has potential first round talent as a tackle, a position where the Steelers can surely use all the help they can get. Now that he’s signed, hopefully Adams will spend more time in the weight room than rolling doobies and OLine coach Sean Kugler will have him up to speed by training camp.
The team’s current plan at O-line would seem to be (left to right) Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Willie Colon. My worry there is Gilbert looked like a human traffic cone during his brief stint at LT last season and Colon has always been an injury prone turnstile. There are rumblings that Max Starks may be brought in at some point depending on how fast he heals up from major off-season surgery but I think that’s a pretty remote possibility. I think the Steelers know they have an issue at LT and rolled the dice on Adams because if he straightens out, he can easily be the team’s LT-of-the-future.
The good news is Pouncer started as a rookie two years ago and Gilbert started as a rookie last year so it’s not impossible or unlikely for that to happen. Would the Steelers be willing to field an O-line that features two rookies, possibly even manning the entire left side (DeCastro projects as a natural LG)? I’d imagine Mike Tomlin never relishes starting rookies. But I’d also imagine Tomlin would like his Franchise quarterback to survive the season without becoming a one man injury report. And getting Adams signed and in the fold in a timely fashion goes a long way to accomplishing that goal.
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Ah, college graduation. That rite of passage when one chapter of your life closes and another begins. Of course, I graduated in my early twenties with about six figures worth of debt to my name. Something tells me Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have to worry about repaying his student loans. And while he graduated this weekend some nine years after leaving Miami University (Ohio) for the NFL, it’s nice to see the big lug finally earn his degree. He even trotted out the sham wife (who, to be fair, has ditched the butch haircut and is looking much better these days. She still dresses like my grandma, though.) to
keep him away from post-graduation keggers share in his special day.
While Big Ben was off accepting his bachelor’s degree in education (EDUCATION? No wonder US academic standards continue to plummet), the Steeler were busy getting acquainted with their 2012 draft class. The new CBA makes contract negotiations fairly standard in terms of length and base salary, the only quibbling point left is over bonus money. NT Alameda Ta’amu was the first draft pick to sign, with good reason as the Steelers lavished their nose tackle-of-the-future with a generous deal worth about $2.5 million. To put that in perspective, fourth round pick Ta’amu received roughly the same deal second rounder LaMarr Woodley got back in 2007. RB Chris Rainey was the second player to sign although his contract details haven’t been announced.
Regardless of contract, all our draft picks, undrafted rookies, and non-roster invitees were in town this weekend for their first off-season mini-camp. Sadly not among them was Trick Shot Quarterback Alex Tanney, who I mentioned in my recap of undrafted free agents last week. Tanney decided to sign with the Bills when he found out we also invited former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson to camp. Johnson, who holds the honor of being the first overall pick of the 2011 United Football League draft, bounced around between the UFL, NFL, and ArenaBall last year. Johnson is a big guy (6’5 240 pounds) with a big arm who also has pretty good mobility for a guy his size. And he’s African-American, like every other quarterback on our roster not named Ben Roethlisberger. I only felt compelled to point that out because like 10% of the QBs in the league are African-American yet the Steelers are going into camp with four on the roster (not to mention Dennis Dixon is still trying to find work). Mike Tomlin must think he’s Jesse Jackson or something.
Anyway, rookie orientation begins with the assigning of jerseys which is always an interesting proposition. The Steelers don’t retire numbers, another of their strange little quirks like refusing to alter their uniform design or field a squad of big-haired Polish girls waving pom-poms. Technically, they have retired one number, #70, worn by Hall of Fame defensive end Ernie Stautner from 1950-63. It was retired in 1969 which to you Steeler historians out there will pretty well explain why his was the last number to be “officially” taken out of circulation.
Vaunted rookie guard David DeCastro has drawn countless comparisons to former Steelers All-Pro Alan Faneca since the moment his name was called by the Ginger Dictator. DeCastro initially took #61 but after second thought (or perhaps some prodding from the Steelers’ PR staff) switched to Faneca’s #66. Maybe they’re both really big Penguins fans. Fellow rookie lineman Mike Adams took freshly retired Chris Hoke‘s #76. Ta’amu picked one of the more iconic numbers, choosing to wear the #95 most frequently associated with Greg Lloyd. Lloyd’s number was actually worn by Joey Porter early in his career but he got sick of being called “the next Greg Lloyd” so he changed it to #55. It’s pretty safe to say Ta’amu won’t have to worry about those comparisons as even if he blossoms into the anchor at the middle of the Steelers D, there’s not much confusing a mouthy linebacker built like a brick house with a fatass lineman charged with the dirty work up front.
Then we have perhaps one of the more ignorant things the Steelers have done in recent years. Rookie linebacker Sean Spence asked for and received #51. Granted James Farrior may not be a Hall of Famer or even one of the top ten linebackers in Steelers history (although that’s arguable) but he was key contributor to three Super Bowl bound teams not to mention a long-time defensive captain. They couldn’t wait ONE FREAKIN’ YEAR before peddling his number out to some midget who’ll probably be cut in a year or two?? Not to mention for those hoping Farrior might be brought back at a later date, I guess now it’s clear the Steelers have turned that page.
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6’5 320 pounds
What more can I say about this pick? Just look at this dude. How can you not be excited by the NFL version of Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket? The scouting report on DeCastro is filled with superlatives like “extremely polished,” “stout at the point of attack,” and “nasty, aggressive demeanor.” He’ll be expected to start on day one and the question isn’t whether he can handle playing in the NFL but how long it’ll take him to reach his first Pro Bowl (if the Pro Bowl still exists next year). The sky is truly the limit with this pick. Why did he fall to the Steelers at #24? The only answer I’ve heard is he’s a guard, which tend to hold less value than tackles, who have to be a little better athletically since they work in space.. That said, DeCastro is a tremendous athlete by guard standards as evidenced by his superior pull blocking ability. The bottom line the Steelers got a well-rounded, blue-collar blocker who solidifies one of their guard spots for the next decade.Mike Adams Offensive Tackle Ohio State 6’7 325 pounds
Adams was considered one of the top five tackles in the draft who fell to the mid-second round due to character concerns stemming from several incidents while at Ohio State and a failed drug test at the NFL Combine. He grew up a Steeler fan in Farrell, PA, and evidently was very hopeful the Steelers would draft him. Time will tell whether he can straighten his life out or if he’ll be just another low character guy the team failed to control. Sticking to the football side of the equation, Adams has the kind of size and quickness to be a top notch left tackle. He has some injury concerns (season ending foot injury in 2008, season ending knee injury in 2009) but rebounded to be named 1st Team Big Ten in 2010 and 2nd Team last season. Boom or Bust type with all the physical gifts in the world but needs a little polish and a lot of attitude adjustment in order to maximize his immense potential.Sean Spence Inside Linebacker Miami 5’11 230 pounds
Excellent athlete with a non-stop motor. Tackling machine who has no problem covering sideline-to-sideline. Played several different linebacker positions in college but Mike Tomlin has already stated they’re looking at Spence to back-up Lawrence Timmons at ILB with Stevenson Sylvester in the mix to replace James Farrior at the other ILB. The downside with Spence is at 5’11 and 230 pounds, he’s way undersized for the Steelers’ style of defense. Dick LeBeau depends on his inside ‘backers to be stout against the run and drop into coverage. Timmons got pushed around his first couple seasons as an undersized ILB and he was 6’1 240. Spence is going to get run over like an annoying little gnat. What’s more, he ran a disappointing 4.7 second 40 at the combine so not only is Spence half a foot shorter than most TEs, he’s quite a bit slower, too. Perhaps he’ll give the Steelers some nice special teams play during his brief NFL career but it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever see significant playing time as a member of the defense.
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They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Kevin Colbert is clearly no historian.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a chance in round two of the 2012 NFL Draft by selecting Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams. Like yesterday’s first round pick, David DeCastro, Adams is another player most mock drafts had predicted to be gone well before the Steelers chose him with the 56th overall pick. A 6’7 323 pound monster with starting potential at right or left tackle, quite a few draftniks even had him slotted as a late first rounder. Unlike DeCastro, we know exactly why Adams slipped to the middle of round two.
He was one of six players who failed their drug test at February’s scouting combine. This wasn’t the first time Adams’ affinity for weed got him into trouble as he was arrested for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia in 2009 and served a two game suspension because of it. He was also suspended for five games in 2011 and forced to repay $1,000 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring as part of Ohio State’s memorabilia/Tattoogate scandal. However, testing positive for marijuana at the combine has to be the most distressing red flag. First of all, the testing date is well known weeks ahead of time so you’re either an idiot or hardcore stoner if you can’t get clean before they ask you to piss in a cup. Secondly, Adams was asked about his history with mary jane during interviews and told everybody he had learned his lesson, hadn’t touched the stuff in years, blah blah blah. Only after he was caught did he ‘fess up.
Hmmm… Let’s see… A pothead from Ohio State with character issues and red flags all over the place… Yeah, nothing can possibly go wrong there.
Look, I applaud the Steelers for making a strong effort to keep their franchise quarterback healthy and upright. As I said yesterday, I have no confidence in Marcus Gilbert and Willie Colon as our starting tackles so if Adams is as advertised, and I’m not denying he has outstanding physical gifts, this is a great pick. And I understand the Steelers took a hard line with the kid, telling him he was off their board until he showed contrition. And I also understand Adams wrote a heartfelt letter apologizing for lying and even took the unusual step of offering to defer his signing bonus for a year and a half so he can win back the team’s trust. But I’m sorry, the Steelers have been down this road before and nine times out of ten, if you’re an idiot in college, you’ll be a bigger idiot in the pros. Stop selecting these low character guys. To paraphrase Sam Wyche, we’re the Pittsburgh Steelers, not the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the third round, the Steelers addressed something other than offensive line by taking outside linebacker Sean Spence from Miami. Spence is a fine athlete who benefits from an almost psychic ability to guess what play the offense has called before they run it. Or maybe I’m getting him confused with someone else. And at least the only trouble he’s been in was serving a one game suspension for receiving
improper benefits free lap dances while in school. For a Miami alum, that’s practically a choir boy.
You’ll have to forgive me for getting him confused with Shawn Spencer of Psych. They don’t really have much in common except for a vaguely similar name and the fact they both stand 5’11. Yep, the Steelers invested a third round pick a linebacker who’s smaller than half the running backs in the NFL. Mike Tomlin mentioned in a post-draft presser he envisions Spence moving inside which is pretty laughable when you consider he’s a midget. For comparisons sake, James Farrior stood 6’2 and weighed 245 pound while Spence tips the scales at 5’11 and 230. How the hell is Spence going to line-up with guys like the Incredible Gronk (6’6 265 for those keeping score)??
As you may have surmised from my sarcasm, I’m less than thrilled with this choice. Prior to the draft, Kevin Colbert said he expected to get at least three starters in rounds 1-3. In the post-draft presser, he’s already stated he sees Spence as a depth guy to groom behind Lawrence Timmons. Just what we need, yet another depth linebacker to go with the Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson and Stevenson Sylvester (Class of 2010) and Chris Carter and Mortty Ivy (Class of 2011). How many freakin’ back-up linebackers does this team need?
I guess I can’t be too down on this year’s draft because at least we got DeCastro. No matter how you slice it, day one of the draft was a home run. Day two was anything but with the team taking an offensive tackle with huge character concerns and an undersized back-up inside linebacker. If the Steelers were solid up and down the depth chart, I could understand aiming for this sort of roster filler. However, they’re not and I’m a little worried that they don’t seem to have any sense of urgency in addressing that.
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Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Imagine how good he’d be if he wasn’t running for his life every other snap.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a big step in ensuring their best player stays healthy and upright by selecting Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro with their first round pick. DeCastro is by all accounts the best offensive guard in the 2012 NFL Draft. As such, very few people expected him to still be around by the time the Steelers picked 24th overall. I must’ve looked at twenty mock drafts, from professional blowhards like Peter King to every amateur draftnik with a blog and nobody had DeCastro available when we picked. To give you a rough idea how highly regarded this kid was, King had him slotted to
Pittsburgh West Arizona at #13 while that smug prick Todd McShay had him going at #11 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
DeCastro is a 6’5 316 pound beast who started every game the past three seasons for Stanford. He’s equally adept at run blocking and pass protection and he executes both with extreme prejudice. I could go on and on with numbers and scouting reports but all that really needs be said is scouts have compared him favorably to Alan Faneca. When you draft a kid who reminds people of a guy who was a nine time Pro Bowler, two time offensive lineman of the year and member of the Steelers All-Time Team, that’s a pretty good pick.
As General Manager Kevin Colbert mentions above, they didn’t expect DeCastro to slip that far but when he started to fall, they immediately identified him as a player they would be willing to move up to get. As things happened, they never had to. Things were going more or less according to script through the first dozen picks when the Seattle Seahawks threw everybody a curveball by taking a thug from West Virginia named Bruce Irvin. That set off a run on defensive lineman where four of the next six picks were defensive tackles or DE/OLB hybrids. In fact, no fewer than ten DT and DE/OLB hybrids were taken in the first round. That opened the door for quality offensive lineman, who have inspired runs of their own in the previous couple drafts, to fall to the later picks.
Before the draft, I was worried that Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Wisconsin OG Kevin Zeitler would be gone when the Steelers chose. Not only were they both still on the board when the Steelers picked, we pretty much had our choice of offensive lineman for once. After neglecting the offensive line for so many years, taking an OG may not have been a sexy pick but it was absolutely the right pick. Hightower went one pick later to New England and while I expect he’ll have a nice little career under Bill Belichick, the Steelers don’t NEED another linebacker. They NEED to protect the best quarterback in Steeler history. We had the top ranked defense last year and where did that get us after Big Ben broke his foot running for his life in Cleveland?
Protect Ben and everything else is gravy.
I said in my draft preview, the Steelers don’t need depth, they need starters. As Mike Tomlin says in the above video, DeCastro is already penciled in as starter at RG in 2012. Scouts rave about DeCastro’s ability to pull on run blocks so I have a feeling he’ll eventually move over to LG but for now they’ll ease him into the NFL on the right side. Incumbent RG Ramon Foster will probably slide over to the left with Doug Legursky, who honestly has no business being a starting guard for a championship level team, will return to his role as super-sub. When the DeCastro pick was announced, the Twitterverse exploded in orgasmic joy which I understand even if I don’t necessarily agree. DeCastro is a great start to fixing our horrendous offensive line but I’m still really worried about Marcus Gilbert and Willie Colon at the tackles. Baby steps, I guess.
In other draft news, two of our AFC North brethren were busy yesterday. The Bengals used their first pick on the best available criminal, taking pothead CB Dre Kirkpatrick. They later traded down with New England and wound up with the Steelers’ sloppy seconds, taking OG Zeitler at #27. The Browns, who have a solid supporting cast but zero playmakers, tried their damnedest to fill that void by moving up to take RB Trent Richardson. They later picked up former minor league pitcher QB Brandon Weeden, evidently putting an end to the Colt McCoy era. Big Ben competed in three Super Bowls by age 29, Weeden will be starting his rookie year. The Ratbirds, meanwhile, evidently feel they have no room for improvement as they waited at #29 to see how the draft fell, decided they didn’t like what was left, and traded out of the first round.
So where do we go from here? As we saw yesterday, predicting who is going to be taken when is nigh impossible. I will say this, with the run on defensive lineman yesterday, that position has been thinned out considerably. I can see the Steelers wasting no time in picking up Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu or Clemson’s Brandon Thompson as Big Snack’s heir apparent at nose tackle in round two. After that, I’m sure they’ll simply fall back into their usual mode of taking the best player available.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers currently sit at thirteen point favorites over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The last time they were a huge favorite, they put forth a less than inspiring effort against the Seattle Seahawks. Oh how things change one week to the next in the wacky NFL. The team we saw last week is a far cry from the one that sputtered through the first quarter of the season.
However, since reverse psychology worked so well last week…
The Steelers will lose. After last last week’s impressive performance, they’ve grown soft. They’re reading their own press clippings. This has trap game written all over it. Bet the under.