The Steel City sits at a torch-passing crossroads while a sleeping giant on the west coast looks to come out firing to start the 2011 NFL regular season. Do other teams have the same chance?
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger holds the trump card with aging defense
Fans and experts all say there's nothing wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. That's true for now, but they are getting old at some dangerous spots, not to mention the injury history that comes with their aggressive play. It's why playoff success rests on the right arm of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His toughness is never doubted but Pittsburgh hasn't had much success protecting him. Only his ability to make plays with his feet has prevented disaster from striking. How much longer can the Steelers rely on that ability before Big Ben takes a hit he won't get up from? They better find an answer soon, before teams figure out how to attack them.
Predicted record: 12-4
St. Louis Rams: Completing unfinished business of playoffs rests on Sam Bradford
Things keep improving for the St. Louis Rams heading towards the NFL regular season. Their receiving corps and defense have upgraded and star quarterback Sam Bradford shows countless flashes of why he was the top draft pick. The Rams stand in an NFC West division that is the worst in the NFL. They were a single touchdown away from the division title last year. There's no reason to think they can't finish what they started. Such confidence must come from Bradford himself. His play, like it is with most quarterbacks, decides the fate of his team every week. Though he's still young and learning, he's talented enough to take the next step towards bringing St. Louis back to the postseason.
Predicted record: 10-6
San Diego Chargers: Will Philip Rivers be able to avoid the slow start?
Slow starts plagued the San Diego Chargers for the last five years, and it caught up with them in 2010 when they missed the playoffs. Part of that problem is on quarterback Philip Rivers. He puts up monster numbers every year but struggles early in the season that ultimately affects how his team enters January. If the Chargers ever want to remove the "bridesmaid" cloud from over their heads they must ride Rivers to a quick jump out of the gate. All the talented pieces are back in place including receiver Vincent Jackson. A team only gets so many chances at a Super Bowl and San Diego is using up theirs awfully fast with little to show for it.
Predicted record: 13-3
San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh needs lots of magic to turn around Alex Smith
Head coach Jim Harbaugh knows the nightmare facing him. Unless he can work a little of that quarterback magic he had as a player and a college coach, the San Francisco 49ers will go their ninth-straight season without playoff football. This is a hard reality to stomach for a franchise that won five Super Bowls in just 14 years. At the heart of it all sits embattled quarterback Alex Smith. Already labeled a bust by experts, Harbaugh has given him one last chance to resurrect his disappointing career. If Smith fails, then the 49ers will spend draft day next season looking for a replacement.
Predicted record: 3-13
The NFL regular season predictions will end shortly. Stay tuned for further updates.