Pittsburgh Steelers: Projecting the second half of the season

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers reached the halfway point of the season at 5-3, putting them right on pace for my preseason prediction of 10-6 in 2014.

Not that I drew it up this way.

I had the Steelers beating the Ravens in Baltimore and the Browns in Cleveland.

Yep, good calls.

I did have them losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But I also thought the Buccaneers would be this year’s surprise team.

Yep, another good call.

With eight games to go and the Steelers only a half-game out of first place in the AFC North, I forecast the second half of the season.

Sunday vs. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are beat up in the secondary and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a 522-yard, six-touchdown performance. The Steelers lost by 20 points in Baltimore in the second week of the season. Season sweeps in this charged rivalry don’t happen often, though the Ravens were able to get one in 2011. Prediction: Steelers 27, Ravens 20.

Nov. 9 at New York Jets: The Fighting Rex Ryans are an absolute mess. They have lost seven consecutive games and have benched struggling quarterback Geno Smith for Michael Vick. The Steelers would love to see Smith under center again when they visit MetLife Stadium. The second-year man threw two interceptions a 19-6 loss to the Steelers last season. Prediction: Steelers 24, Jets 10.

Nov. 17 at Tennessee Titans: There is no way the Steelers should lose a third consecutive game to the Titans. No way. But I don’t trust this team to deal well with prosperity given its recent history, even with the Titans likely starting rookie Zach Mettenberger at quarterback. Prove me wrong Steelers. Prediction: Titans 27, Steelers 23.

Nov. 30 vs. New Orleans Saints: Quarterback Drew Brees will challenge the Steelers’ defense, but Pittsburgh stood up to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The Steelers will need to take the same aggressive approach against the Saints as they did with Indianapolis. I like the Steelers coming off their bye week. Steelers 34, Saints 30.

Dec. 7 at Cincinnati Bengals: The Steelers have won six of their last eight games against the Bengals. That is why I have them beating their AFC North rivals ... in Pittsburgh. The Steelers give the Bengals a game at Paul Brown Stadium but Cincinnati wins a close one, perhaps in spite of quarterback Andy Dalton. Bengals 24, Steelers 20.

Dec. 14 at Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons are flailing after blowing a three-touchdown lead to the Detroit Lions and losing 22-21 in London. Remarkably at 2-6, they are still in the hunt for the NFC South, which is worse than cold French fries. It would help the Steelers if the Falcons, who have dropped five consecutive games, continue to lose. Prediction: Steelers 42, Falcons 17.

Dec. 21 vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Coach Andy Reid’s crew is quietly 4-3 with some impressive wins. This won’t be an easy game by any means, and if it was in Arrowhead Stadium, I would take the Chiefs. I will go with the Steelers based on home-field advantage and my hunch that Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith won’t be able to beat the Steelers with a mediocre receiving corps. Prediction: Steelers 24, Chiefs 17.

Dec. 28 vs. Bengals: Are these Steelers an 11-5 team? I say yes if they get to the regular-season finale with 10 wins. That remains a big if, but I don’t see them getting swept by Dalton and the Bengals. Prediction: Steelers 30, Bengals 27.