For the first time since January, I and many others can hold our heads up high and proudly declare: We have Steelers football this week.
This Friday, our beloved Steelers will be heading to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Buccaneers in Tampa. As I type this (the evening of Aug. 7), the point spread for the matchup is even, indicating a lack of decisiveness regarding which squad is superior.
While some would think that hints at a good game (which, competitively, it does), it tells me the exact opposite, as a game under this one’s circumstances is tight for all the wrong reasons.
In other words, the chances of this game getting rather ugly at times sit well within the realm of possibility. This would likely be due to a couple of factors, such as the inclusion of rookies and it being both teams’ preseason debuts. That combination of inexperience and all-around rustiness amounts to a severe lack of predictability.
But, in all fairness, that should be a surprise to no one. Fans who know anything about how a good portion of these preseason games go should be aware of those factors and anticipate visible flaws in both parties’ performances as a result.
Another thing they should know is that the Steelers deserve to be seen as the favorites here, but why? There are actually multiple reasons for this, involving the characteristics of both Pittsburgh’s Floridian foe and Pittsburgh itself.
These traits make a Steelers win look like a done deal
What makes Tampa Bay a relatively “comfortable” opponent to open the preseason with are its quarterback and coaching staff, as the Steelers are familiar with facing—and beating—both. Looking at the Bucs QB room first, we see an old adversary who will surely get some reps Friday night: Baker Mayfield.
Now I'm too professional to crack jokes at Baker’s expense, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfair for me to acknowledge Pittsburgh’s 5-3 record against him (including playoffs). The record equates to about 63% of his encounters with the Steelers seeing him lose; not some humiliating percentage, but one in Pittsburgh's favor regardless.
So, while he’s got much experience under his belt and has played significantly tougher versions of the black and yellow brigade that awaits him, I’d say that he’s certainly not the most threatening QB in the eyes of our sideline.
Speaking of sidelines, what is it about Tampa Bay’s that throws fuel onto Pittsburgh’s fire of confidence? The simple answer is that it’s no stranger to losing to the Steelers either, as the Bucs have fallen to them as recently as last season.
Now again, the circumstances of that meeting are very different from those of this upcoming one, as both sides fielded very different teams from the ones they have in store for this time around. But nonetheless, there is a familiarity with the play-calling that could hopefully be at least somewhat advantageous.
Where does Pittsburgh's appeal come into play?
That kind of stuff paints the Buccaneers out as losers in the making, but what paints the Steelers out as such reliable winners? To answer that question, all we have to do is look at how well the preseason has treated them as of late.
As arrogant as it may sound, the preseason is a Yinzer’s game; just one peek at the standard that Pittsburgh has set over the past several years tells us that.
From 2017’s preseason to 2022’s (five preseasons total, as 2020’s was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the Steelers went a respectable 15-4. In that span, not a single year saw them go worse than 3-1; heck, they even managed to go a perfect 3-0 last year. But that’s not even the craziest part—of those five installments, none of Pittsburgh’s losses were in the opening week. Quite impressive if you ask me.
Lastly, just for a pinch of salt to go on the wounds of Buccaneers fans, it feels fitting to mention that one of 2019’s three Steelers wins was obtained against Tampa Bay…in their opener. Oh, and since that stretch, the Bucs have just one preseason win to their name.
All in all, a mixture of ugliness, familiarity, and superiority as potent as the one we uncovered here today should produce what I hope will be a chaotic Steelers win. Subsequently, the football fanatic inside each of us should awaken just as we have desperately wanted it to for so long.
Which reminds me: Even if our beloved Steelers do fall this week, I think we can all agree that a preseason loss would be a small price to pay just to have the black and yellow back on our screens. With that said, no predictions surrounding this game’s outcome should steer us away from the simple fact that these next several months are going to be fantastic.