It seems like yesterday we were watching Jerome Bettis and Bill Cowher celebrate the Steelers 5th World Title. It has, in fact, been over 7 months, and a long off-season it has been. The 2006 Regular Season gets under way tonite, in Pittsburgh, with the Champs facing the Miami Dolphins. Obviously, emotions will be running high in Heinz Field as the Team and it's fans will once again celebrate all of last year's accomplishments. If you would ask Cowher, I am sure he would admit that he could do without all of this fan-fare. All of the back-patting does little to help Cowher and his "us against the world" message he is so good at delivering. He used it all the way to the Super Bowl last season, and will be on the other end, with the target firmly on his back this season.
The off-season has been a rocky one to say the least for Pittsburgh, with Bettis' retirement, the loss of Antwon Randel El, Big Ben's accident and all the speculation about Cowher's future. The latest was the emergency appendectomy, leaving Roethlisberger on the sidelines for the opener. Let's face it, repeating is hard enough, and when you add all the distractions the Steelers have had to face it might just be impossible.
As I look at this game I had liked the Steelers. Super Bowl winners have won their opening game 6 straight seasons, the last to lose the Denver Broncos in 1999. The common denominator between the Steelers and Broncos is the starting QB. John Elway had retired, and Brian Griese had taken over. The outcome? A loss to the, you guessed it, Miami Dolphins. Scary, isn't it?
As I write this, my opinion is starting to sway. Daunte Culpepper has looked great during the pre-season for what it's worth, and the Steelers still look hung over. I know the Steelers defense is the real deal, but the Dolphins have a lot of weapons, and Nick Saban has had the entire off-season to get read for what Pittsburgh is going to throw their way. Add the loss of Ben, and I think the Steelers might struggle. Willie Parker is a question mark as the guy who will have to carry the ball 25-30 times and I don't know if he is going to be able to carry the load. Without Ben, the Dolphins will stack the line and make Charlie Batch beat them. I don't think that can happen.
The Dolphins defense, coupled with Culpepper, Ronnie Brown and Chris Chambers, will be just enough to knock of the Steelers. I take the Dolphins -- 20-16
UPDATE -- 12:30 AM EST -- Ok, so I was wrong! Steelers win, with a typical performance by everyone: Dolphins D just good enough to give up a huge play in the 4th quarter, Daunte Culpepper looked like a changed man until he imploded when it mattered most, Steelers trudge along, looking blah at times, until making big plays when it mattered most and getting a defensive TD. Thanks to all of you for your input during the game. It made it truly enjoyable to watch. I'll have an open thread like this for all the primetime games, to go along with the Open Thread for all Bronco games. If you want one for any other game, let me know and that can be arranged. It looks like we have a great group and I am lookig forward to a great season. Spread the word!!!