“Picking the Steelers to win the Super Bowl is such a homer pick.”

“You just jinxed the entire Steelers season.”

“What were you thinking?”

Yea, maybe it was a bit of a “homer” pick, a jinx is the talk of conspiracy theorists, and I try to limit my thinking when at all possible. Plus if this pick goes wrong, remember my consultant.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will kick off the strange but true 2020 season later tonight in the Meadowlands versus Saquon Barkley and some other guys known as the New York Giants.

There is a lot to like about this Pittsburgh Steelers team.

It usually starts with the future Hall of Fame quarterback, but not this team. With the 2020 Steelers it starts with the defense.

Last year I said we could be seeing a Steel Curtain revival in Pittsburgh. Speed kills, especially when the hits that follow are powerful. This defense has all of that and more.

TJ Watt and Bud Dupree coming off the edge both possess speed and power. Watt may be the best defensive player in the league. Certainly he is in the top ten. Dupree wants paid by someone so he will have more than enough incentive to have another great year. Cam Heyward, thrilled to have signed a contract to keep him a Steeler for life, plugs the inside with Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt. People forget just how good Tuitt is, mainly because he is injured far too often.

This should be the season linebacker Devin Bush blossoms. What Bush lacks in height, he makes up for with speed and power. He is a real ball hawk, and causes offenses to always know where he is lined up. Vince Williams is a veteran who does enough to not merit too much concern.

If the pass rush remains as potent as a year ago, the back end of the defense will have opportunities to make plays. Nobody makes plays more often than Minkah Fitzpatrick. His running mate, Terrell Edmunds, will need to take a step forward this year. Sean Davis was brought back for depth and could find himself getting some playing time. On the outside Joe Haden still has great cover skills and Steven Nelson may be the most underrated player on the team.

Depth is improved this year with the additions of Davis, Chris Wormley, and rookie Alex Highsmith. One of my favorite players on defense is nickel back Mike Hilton. Hilton fits in with the ball hawking theme of this defense. He always finds himself around the ball, and on this defense he may find a crowd when he arrives.

Holding down opponents, creating turnovers, and even scoring points, this could become the best defense Terrible Towel wavers have witnessed in decades.

The offense could be potent, but it should only have to be decent considering the defense. There are, however, far more question marks on this side of the ball.

First, second, third, and foremost is keeping Ben Roethlisberger healthy. He says he feels better than he has in a long time. He looks better, physically, than he has in a long time. Now, will the arm hold up? According to all questioned, from coaches to players to doctors, his arm is better now than the last couple years when the ligaments were never right in his elbow.

Ben appears to be in excellent shape and there is no reason to think he can’t still produce at a high level just like some other elderly quarterbacks around the league. Brady, Brees, so why not Ben?

The next biggest question mark, and it goes hand in hand with the first, is the offensive line. Over the years, the Steelers offensive line has been injury prone. It’s already starting this year with All-Pro David Decastro out for game one. The Steelers have always prided themselves on the Tomlinism of “next man up”. Their depth has been excellent over the years. Stefen Wisniewski gives them a solid veteran who can plug into a lot of spots this year. The difference this year is they are already moving Matt Feiler to the left side replacing Ramon Foster and plugging in behemoth Zach Banner at right tackle. It remains to be seen how both hold up. Again, keeping Roethlisberger healthy is priority number 1, 2, 3, 4…well, you get the point.

Another question mark is at running back, where James Conner doesn’t stay on the field enough. He has shown to be an above average player with flashes of more, but he gets hurt far too often and has fumbled in key spots as well. Benny Snell needs to rotate in more often this year, and rookie Anthony McFarland is a guy I’m anxious to see cut loose. Conner is also playing for a contract, and we know that always provides extra motivation.

The receiving corp went from “who will replace Antonio Brown’s production” to “throw me the damn ball.” This group now has four legitimate threats. Another guy playing for his next contract is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Yes, he spends too much time on social media. On the other hand he has himself in fantastic shape, and he wants to get paid. Playing him in the slot more often should help accentuate his skill set. Dionte Johnson reminded some of Antonio Brown, and should be even better in year two. James Washington is a legit deep threat, and I can’t wait to see rookie Chase Claypool break out. Add the two tight ends, Vance McDonald and newly acquired Eric Ebron, and Ben should be licking his chops with all those options.

Chris Boswell righted the ship last year and went back to his excellent place kicking. Better yet, the Steelers changed punters last week. Gone is the inconsistent Jordan Berry, and in his place is veteran Dustin Colquitt. The Steelers have a history with Colquitt punters, and let’s face it, he can’t be any worse than Berry. Improving special teams is very important.

Injuries can happen at any time to any player. I’m betting on Ben Roethlisberger staying healthy. He is known for creating drama, but this year I think he is trying to create a legacy. He has something to prove, and I think he will do all he can to shut up the naysayers.

This numbskull on ESPN actually said this.

At best. Actually what he said was the Steelers would have the fourth best quarterback in the division.

Those kind of takes have to motivate Ben. Having two Super Bowl rings yet never even being mentioned in the same sentence with Brees and Brady has to motivate Ben. Not dealing with Antonio Brown nonsense has to motivate Ben. Having four good receivers and two good tight ends has to motivate Ben. Watching his defense from the sidelines create havoc has to motivate Ben.

Ben Roethlisberger is going to lead his team to a Super Bowl, and he’s bringing the best defense in the NFL with him.

Remember, every homer pick isn’t a bad pick. Right, Homer?

Plus, I’ve got this guy jumping on my bandwagon.

We homers like to stick together.

Two Cent Takes

NFL

~Some observations from the first week of NFL football:

  • The Browns looked like, well, the Browns.
  • The Bengals did Bengals things to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Joe Burrow is a gamer. He will be fine.
  • Josh Allen plays in Buffalo so nobody pays much attention, but he is going to be a star.
  • Bill O’Brien needs to win a big game soon.
  • Cam Newton won his first game in New England. He won’t play a team that keeps handing the Patriots the ball every week.
  • Jacksonville is bad at tanking.
  • So is Washington. Good for Ron Rivera. Who isn’t rooting for him?
  • The Eagles are in big trouble. Carson Wentz won’t last the season.
  • Phillip Rivers was toast last year. The Colts will find he is burnt toast this year.
  • Detroit is still, and apparently always will be, Detroit.
  • It’s only week one, but I think I got the Packers and Vikings flip flopped. The Vikings were atrocious.
  • Vegas fans need to learn the name Josh Jacobs. Guy is a stud.
  • Arizona is better than I thought. San Francisco is exactly what I thought.
  • Rumor has it that Tom Brady was muttering to Rob Gronkowski leaving the Superdome “I don’t think we’re in New England anymore. Then he went off looking for his ruby slippers to click together.

 These 4:25 games really cut in to an old man’s nap time.

~I didn’t mind at all watching games without fans, much like the other sports. However, I have to think it was super weird for the players. In football the crowds can provide juice to the players. The rising and falling ambient noise hardly does that.

College Football

~The Big Ten postponed, took on many slings and arrows, talked to Trumpy, reiterated the postponement, listened to coaches go on TV and complain, and now after all that, they will apparently have another vote. The goal of the vote is to attempt an October start.

Why the change of heart?

Simple. $$$.

This whole season is being played for the money. Plain and simple. Games have been bad. Matchups are bad, with mostly conference only games. Games are being cancelled due to COVID-19 Outbreaks. Players are opting out left and right. It’s a mess, and likely will get messier.

~How little respect does the PAC-12 get? Nobody seems even remotely concerned that the PAC-12 may not get started with the others. It’s all about getting the Big Ten to the table. What does the PAC-12 do if they are left behind? Did I mention mess?

~Oklahoma nearly had to cancel its fill in game with Missouri State due to positive COVID-19 cases. Tulsa and Baylor did cancel, sending Baylor scrambling to find a game with Houston next week. Virginia and Virginia Tech cancelled a game, prompting the conference to release a worst case scenario report for the continuation of the season.

If you are wondering why many suggested waiting until spring, look no further. Some playing, some not. Cancellations and postponements. Limited rosters due to positive tests. Sloppy play. Conference only schedules. There was no planning or forethought whatsoever, and consequently this doesn’t look or feel like a regular season. And it isn’t. Keep pretending like a national title is the goal. Trying to make some $$$ is the only goal that ever existed,

Baseball

~The Phillies were swept Sunday by the Miami Marlins allowing the Marlins to slip past them in the standings. The Phillies will still make the playoffs, but Zach Wheeler’s freaky injury and all of the doubleheaders are killing their pitching staff.

~The Pirates were swept by the Kansas City Royals this weekend, capping it with an 11-0 defeat Sunday. They are back in the catbird seat for worst record and hopefully for their sake the number one pick in the draft. One of the things new GM Ben Cherington must do is hit some home runs in the draft. Otherwise this rebuild will seem eternally long.

~While Cubs pitcher Alec Mills was no hitting the Brewers, the guy having the most fun pitching yesterday was Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia. He was really bringing it, and having a blast doing so.

PGA

~The US Open takes place at Winged Foot this week. Dustin Johnson seems like the logical choice to win. He is playing out of his mind right now, but majors seem to elude him. I wouldn’t want to go against the odds, but I have a feeling Justin Thomas will take home the trophy this week. If you are looking for a sleeper I’ll give you Daniel Berger at 33-1.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

The NFL is making a point to acknowledge the social injustice that clearly exists in our world. Some teams stayed in the locker room for the National Anthem. Some teams locked arms in solidarity. Some players and coaches knelt; some raised a fist in the air. The NFL decided to play the song Lift Every Voice and Sing before playing the National Anthem. It’s a beautiful song sometimes referred to as the “Black National Anthem”. Considering our National Anthem was composed by a racist slave owner, it seems like having a song that depicts the fight for equality black people have gone through should be okay.

Predictably, it was not okay to some fans.

The booing started in Kansas City Thursday night when players locked arms. Some announced, again, that they aren’t going to watch the NFL anymore. The athletes are being disrespectful. How dare they play “that” song. Sports and politics don’t mix. Rich athletes don’t need to tell me anything. Blah, blah, blah.

The show of unity and, yes, protest were quick and harmless. Yet they were powerful and meaningful. The players’ actions weren’t disrespectful, and never have been because, repeat after me: it isn’t about the flag.

Then the game started just like always.

The players proceeded to play just as hard as they always do. It is still the NFL. It is still football. These actions really shouldn’t create such outrage. Athletes, regardless of wealth, are human beings, too. They have thoughts and opinions. They see when things aren’t right. Plus, they have a huge platform. Athletes actually have a better chance of prompting change than most.

Those that fought for our freedoms deserve honor and respect. One of those freedoms is the right to protest. And maybe a sporting event isn’t the proper place to honor and respect those people. The National Anthem started being played at sporting events during war times to promote national spirit and pride. I’ve said it before, and Stan Van Gundy said it this week.

Honestly it shouldn’t matter. The protests in many cities have been undermined by radicals of all kinds looking to cause trouble and get free stuff. Those protests aren’t serving any purpose at this point. As it turns out, Colin Kaepernick had it right four years ago. Peacefully taking a knee made far more of a positive impact than ransacking your way through a city.

The Anthem was played, the players did their thing, and then they played football. And it was fantastic. It was great watching NFL football, listening to the pregame shows, and hearing Gene Steratore analyze officials.

If players doing something to peacefully bring attention to a cause affecting our country and playing a song that represents the African American heritage makes you turn away from a sport you love watching,  maybe it’s time for a little introspection.

Or maybe you should spend your Sundays on Uncle Jesse’s back porch with the NASCAR fans who refuse to attend races because they aren’t allowed to wave their Confederate flags.

As for me, the pregame display didn’t make me enjoy watching Tom Brady get his butt kicked any less.

Just my two cents…