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An important history lesson for you TRUE Steelers fans!

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Old 08-18-2006, 08:41 AM   #1
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Default Steelers clearly the hunted

By Ed Bouchette
Special to NFL.com

(With the NFL regular season set to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 7, NFL.com has put together an eight-part series previewing each team division by division. Here is the AFC North.)

Overview
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati staged an entertaining division race all season before the Bengals produced an upset by defeating the Steelers in Pittsburgh in December, and achieved their first winning season since 1990. Both finished 11-5, but that victory over the Steelers gave the Bengals the division title.

Division previews
AFC East
Pittsburgh, however, delivered the knockout blow in the playoffs in Cincinnati, coming back from a 10-0 deficit after quarterback Carson Palmer left with a severe knee injury. It was the Steelers' first playoff victory of three straight on the road that put them in the Super Bowl, where they became the first sixth seed to win the Super Bowl, claiming their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy in the process.

Baltimore, expected to compete for a playoff spot, instead slipped to 6-10 while wracked with injuries and a cloudy quarterback situation. Cleveland won two of its last three to go 6-10 in what the Browns hope will be a rebirth under coach Romeo Crennel.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Baltimore and Cleveland, the teams on the bottom last season, open this year with two new starting quarterbacks from a year ago, one a ripened former league MVP, Steve McNair, and the other a second-year player from Akron, Charlie Frye. On the flip side, the Steelers and Bengals hold their breath as starting quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, two of the top three in NFL passer rating, return from severe injuries.


Ben Roethlisberger is back on the field already -- which bodes well for Pittsburgh.
The only team to stand pat -- with all things relative in the NFL's free-agency world -- was the team that would hope to, Pittsburgh. For the second straight season, the Steelers signed just one unrestricted free agent, safety Ryan Clark; but then, they won the Super Bowl in January and went 15-1 in 2004. They even kept the entire coaching staff together for a third straight season.

The other three division members were busy changing the pieces on their boards, especially the teams at the bottom, Baltimore and Cleveland.

McNair could change the Ravens' luck, if he can stay healthy. He and Peyton Manning shared the league MVP honors just two years ago. Baltimore also added defensive end Trevor Pryce and backup halfback Mike Anderson, and top draft pick Haloti Ngata of Oregon will start at tackle on one of the NFL's consistently good defenses.

You can't tell who is on the Browns without a scorecard after their many changes for a second straight season. Their biggest addition and now biggest loss was center LeCharles Bentley, who came from the Saints and then was lost for the season with a knee injury in the first practice. Three seasoned free agents will start -- linebacker Willie McGinest, receiver Joe Jurevicious and nose tackle Ted Washington. Frye started at the end of last season, taking over for Trent Dilfer, who was traded to San Francisco during the offseason.

Even Cincinnati, the division champ, added two new starters on defense -- safety Dexter Jackson and Sam Adams, a whale of a tackle. The Bengals sported one of the best offenses in the league last season (they won that game in Pittsburgh, for example, 38-31) and one of the worst defenses. They also lost middle linebacker Odell Thurman for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Pittsburgh gave hope to everyone with its performance in each of the past two seasons. The Steelers did not win the division last year, then became the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl. In 2004, they became the first team in the AFC to go 15-1 after they were 6-10 in 2003.

You don't think that gives Baltimore and Cleveland, tied at 6-10 last season, reason to believe? Then there's Cincinnati, which led or tied for first in the division wire-to-wire. The Bengals appear on the cusp of getting to a Super Bowl.

Still, there's no denying who the king of the jungle is in the AFC North.

"Pittsburgh -- they've been the bullies of our division for a long time," said McGinest, one of the North newcomers.

Palmer said this spring that he hates Pittsburgh.

"I guess everybody here hates Pittsburgh," McGinest said. "That's all I've been hearing."

Indeed, the Steelers are aware of that, just as they were last summer when they were coming off a 15-1 year.

"We have the target on our chests and a lot of people will be gunning for us," said Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward. "But that's what we want. It's only going to make us play harder. We're going to have to go out and match the intensity of our opponents. I think we're ready for the challenge."

Their biggest challenge again should come from Cincinnati, where the Bengals are primed to go over the top this year. It took them 15 years to rid the loser label, and coach Marvin Lewis has them right where he wants them. They all believe things would have been different had Palmer not been knocked out early in the playoff game against the Steelers.

"What we didn't do last year was get over the injury to one of our good players," Lewis said. "We have to learn to do that."

It still looks like a learning experience for the Browns, especially with a young quarterback, young receivers and an offensive line in transition. But the Ravens, picked by some to win this division a year ago, could be the surprise. They have a balanced offense behind a good line and that defense, which has been dominant for most of this century.
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Old 08-18-2006, 09:24 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers clearly the hunted

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Their biggest challenge again should come from Cincinnati, where the Bengals are primed to go over the top this year. It took them 15 years to rid the loser label, and coach Marvin Lewis has them right where he wants them. They all believe things would have been different had Palmer not been knocked out early in the playoff game against the Steelers.

"What we didn't do last year was get over the injury to one of our good players," Lewis said. "We have to learn to do that."
Marvin wants them in the pokey?

I'm so freakin' sick and tired of hearing how things would have been different if Palmer hadn't been injured!! Are they really naive enough to think that LeBeau wouldn't have adjusted to their offensive ploys as he is well-known around the league for doing? The guy is a defensive mastermind. They can look into their crystal ball and chant "woulda, coulda, shoulda" all they want - it doesn't change the fact that the Steelers kicked their rumps on their own turf and went on to win Super Bowl XL. The Steelers scored 31 points on the Bengals' defense - I didn't realize Palmer played defense, too.

If the Bungles rely solely on one player to get things done, they're in pretty sorry shape, imo. Yes - Palmer makes that offense go, but solid teams improvise when faced with adversity. Kitna came in, put a little fear into us and LeBeau and the defense adjusted accordingly and basically shut them down.

If they continue to rely solely on Palmer and can't improvise, at least for the first half of the season, they're going to have problems, imho. Unfortunately, Carson is still suffering from some post-traumatic effects after his knee injury which is totally understandable, but doesn't bode well for the Bengals going in.

Yes - the Steelers are most definitely the King of the Jungle in the AFC North - damned straight!
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Old 08-18-2006, 10:13 AM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers clearly the hunted

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Originally Posted by lamberts-lost-tooth
Still, there's no denying who the king of the jungle is in the AFC North


Not so much King of the Jungle as much as Benevolent God-Emporers who grasciously allow the other three teams to work the fields and complete the menial tasks of our kingdom
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Old 08-18-2006, 10:17 AM   #4
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Don't hate the player, hate the game. Every Superbowl champ has a target on them.
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Old 08-18-2006, 02:39 PM   #5
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Tons of QB's go down during the season and is easy to say .. what if or if this didnt happen.. It happened to Roethlisberger.. who's to say that we would have won the division and posiibly had Cincy @ home in playoffs or some other scenerio if Ben wasnt out of some of those games that Madddox did so poorly in ?? Is funny to me that it keeps going back to that one play, they cant let it go. Without a defense, you dont stand much of a chance in the playoffs no matter what happens period.
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