Stillers Game by Game 2001 Predictions and Outlook:
I'll state for the record that I see a 10-6 season.� I don't necessarily think it will unfold exactly the way I described below, but I feel sane in predicting a 10-6 record.� 10 wins should certainly qualify this team for a playoff berth, and possibly a slim chance at the division title, depending on tie-breakers.
Offensively, this team has shown some baby steps this preseason.�� The Bills game showed at least a glimmer of hope that Mularkey, Cowher, and Stewart had at least a tiny bit of gumption and belly for throwing the ball downfield.� Despite all the feverish talk of Mularkey�s �new� offense, I don�t expect much to change.� The tubby tailback, Bettis, will carry the vast majority of the load.� Bruener will catch 25 balls.�� Opposing defenses will take their chances with continual run-blitzes, especially if the Stillers refuse to throw downfield.�� The foursome of Ward, Burress, Edwards, and Shaw is going to have to make the most of their opportunities if this team is going to move the ball with any consistency.� And, of course, Stewart is going to have to rise to the occasion, especially against defenses that will be a bit more complicated and daring than the vanilla defenses that Stewart faced in preseason.� The offense will undoubtedly be this team�s Achilles heel, and the team -- unless Cowher extracts his head from buttocks -- will grapple with this problem for yet another season of lost opportunity.
The defense is considerably improved over last year�s version, and, mark my words -- this will be the BEST Stiller defense since the roughhousing �94 gang.� We finally have depth and synchronicity in the secondary, which has plagued us in past seasons.� Brent looks good; and newcomer Logan has looked good in both run-support and coverage.�� The CB crew, backed up by Townsend and Poteat, is extremely sound and capable.� And we finally have some depth, size, guile, and toughness on the D-line.�� Smith, Hampton, and Kimo give us our best starting D-line since the Ray Seals days.� The LB corps is more than capable enough to overcome its notable weak-link at LOLB.�� Rookie KenBell will be a tremendous force, stuffing RBs with brutal hits, beating on pass-catchers, and harassing QBs with up-the-gut blitzes.�� Holmes is playing for a new contract and, invigorated by the stellar play of KenBell and the D-line, Holmes will have a monster season.�� I have no doubt, other than if Cowher gets meek and plays that mamby-pamby conservative BS on defense, that this �01 Stiller defense will dominate and will be among the top 3 or 4 most effective D�s in all of pro football.��
Game by game look:
1. @ Jax: If Cowher has ever proven anything, it's his gross inability to have his team ready for a season opener, the �99� laugher over junior-varsity Cleveland notwithstanding. Since '93, Cowher's teams have either been thoroughly embarrassed on opening day, or they've barely squeaked by marginal competition.� Losses to San Fran (�93), Dallas (�94), Jax (�96), and Balt. (�00), along with sloppy, eked-out wins over weaklings like Detroit (�95), Balt. (�98) and Balt (game 2 of �99), have borne this out conclusively.�� Of course, the Jags are a very beaten-up, beleaguered team, just ripe for a beating.�� However, I cannot, in good conscience, go against Cowher and his proven track record of ineptitude and inability in getting his team ready for the opening of the regular season.�� Loss.� Record: 0-1.
2. Cleve: Opening Heinz Field against a bitter rival will be emotional for the team and the fans.�� Cleveland will be on the wrong end of a fairly severe whipping.�� Win.� Record: 1-1.
3. @ Buff: Playing at Buffalo is no cupcake, and the Stillers have had their share of troubles there, most recently in �99 in a close loss that could have easily been a �W�.� Buffalo looked rather frail and lethargic in the preseason stomping they absorbed from the Black and Gold, and I�m not convinced that Rob Johnson will lead them anywhere, other than to the men�s bathroom.� Win. �Record: 2-1.
4. Cinci:� This can be a perplexing game.�� We had our way with the Bungals last season, but split against them both in �98 and �99 in rather shameful fashion.� The Bungals should be abused in this home game, but some sloppiness makes this a tough game.� Win.� Record: 3-1.
5. @ KC: The Chefs are looking to fight for the AFC West crown.� This is really a team that, aside from T. Gonzalez, has �mediocrity� written all over it.� Of course, Arrowhead is an awfully tough venue for any visiting team, so the Stillers will face a very stern test.�� Loss.� Record: 3-2.
6. @ Tampa: The last time the Stillers ventured down to Buc-land, Stewart cried on the sideline and Mike Prozac gave the ball away to the Bucs en route to a loss that essentially caused the snowball of losses that this franchise is still hoping to recover from.� The Buc defense will be too much for the Stillers to handle.� Loss.� Record:� 3-3.
7. Tenn:� The Titans have owned the Stillers the past 3 seasons, after years of futility in which the Stillers owned the Oilers.� Cowher usually does a solid job of getting his men fired up for a MNF game, and bolstered by a rabid home crowd that should be liquored up well before game-time, the Stillers emerge victorious in a tough, hard-fought barnburner that will probably be amongst the top 3 games MNF shows all season.� Win.� Record: 4-3.
8. Balt:� The Stillers were the last team to beat the Woodpeckers, and I�m sure the Peckers haven�t forgotten.�� Nobody defends Cowher�s Whalesh!t Offense better than the Ravens, and with a short week caused by MNF, the Stillers sputter and stumble.�� Loss.� Record: 4-4.
9. @ Cleve:� Angry at the loss to the Peckers, plus the losses the past 2 seasons to the PumpkinHeads, the Stillers take out their frustration with a stern whupping of the Browns.�� Win. Record: 5-4.
10. Jax:� The Jags came to our house last year, and put the whupping-stick to Cowher�s boys, led by a 230-some yard effort by Fred Taylor, the most the Stiller franchise has ever surrendered.�� The Black and Gold has not forgotten, and combined with pent-up anger from the opening-day loss to Jax, the Stillers exact revenge with a sound thumping of the Fags.� Win. Record: 6-4.
11. @ Tenn:�� The Tittans are simply too good, especially at home, to lose twice to the Stillers.�� Loss.� Record: 6-5.
12. Minn:� Perhaps the toughest game on the schedule to predict, at least at this point in early Sep.�� Minn. and Pitt offer extreme opposites -- the Vikes can pass extremely well with a vaunted passing offense, but with Smith�s retirement, their running game is pathetic.�� The converse is true of the Stillers.�� The difference will be the defenses -- can the Stillers� strong defense at least slow down the Vikes, and will the Vikes� defense shut down the �shuttable� Stiller offense?�� Win.� Record: 7-5.
13. NY Jets:� The Jest (sic) are considered by their locals to be a playoff contender, but we folk outside the NY area know better.� The Jest were an easy pushover on the road last year for the Men of Steel, and they�ll be the recipient of a similar thrashing at Heinz Field.� Win.� Record: 8-5.
14. @ Balt:� This game could very well decide the AFC Central title.� This will be a nip-and-tuck game decided by a big play in the 4th quarter.�� Loss.� Record: 8-6.
15. Detroit:� The toothless Lions will be no match for the Stillers, esp. playing in Pgh.� Win.� Record:� 9-6.
16. @ Cinci:� The hapless Bungals should pretty much throw in the towel by the 2nd quarter, and the Stillers jog to a closeout win.� Win.� Record: 10-6.