Game-by-game predictions: Pittsburgh Steelers

All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell will miss up to the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is unhappy with his contract with three years still left on it. What should concern the Steelers more is they have enough questions at outside linebacker and in their secondary to fill a show of Jeopardy, not to mention a demanding schedule in which they open at New England and play five of their last six games against teams that made the playoffs in 2014. It all adds up to 9-7.

Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 10, at New England, 8:30 PM

This matchup is a bad one for the Steelers in every way. Quarterback Tom Brady will again have his way with a defense that is in transition – and that is to put it charitably – and New England opens defense of its Super Bowl title with a resounding win. Patriots 38, Steelers 20. Record 0-1.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, San Francisco, 1 PM

Jim Tomsula is fiercely proud of his Western Pennsylvania roots. It won’t be a happy homecoming for the first-year 49ers coach unless quarterback Colin Kaepernick gives Pittsburgh fits with his legs as well as his right arm. Steelers 27, 49ers 17. Record 1-1.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, at St. Louis, 1 PM

The Rams have a good enough defense to challenge in the NFC West. Newly acquired quarterback Nick Foles gives them a chance to have the offense necessary to break through in a rugged division. The Steelers' pass rush won’t disrupt the former Eagles quarterback enough for Pittsburgh beat St. Louis on the road. Rams 27, Steelers 24. Record 1-2.

Week 4: Thursday, Oct. 1, Baltimore, 8:25 PM

Death, taxes and the Steelers and Ravens playing in prime time. And why not? One of the best and most enduring rivalries in all of sports usually produces close games. Last year was an exception when the victorious team won by more than 10 points in three meetings. Steelers 24, Ravens 20. Record 2-2.

Week 5: Monday, Oct. 12, at San Diego, 8:30 PM

This is a tough one to call given all of the speculation about the Chargers trading veteran quarterback Philip Rivers and drafting Marcus Mariota. Facing Rivers after a trip across the country would be tough. The Steelers would get a rare break with their schedule by facing Mariota or some stop-gap quarterback. Steelers 30, Chargers 13. Record 3-2.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, Arizona, 1 PM

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will want this game bad since the Steelers forced him into retirement following the 2011 season. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer doesn’t have to worry about former USC roommate – and frequent NFL tormentor -- Troy Polamalu anymore. Assuming Palmer is healthy, Arians makes a triumphant return to Pittsburgh. Cardinals 24, Steelers 23. Record 3-3.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, at Kansas City, 1 PM

Arrowhead Stadium is polka dots with stripes loud and one of the tougher places to play for an opposing team. The Steelers should match up well with the Chiefs, who did not have a wide receiver catch a touchdown pass last season. Unless the Chiefs get immediate help at wide receiver in the draft, the Steelers win this -- and more handily than most think. Steelers 27, Chiefs 16. Record 4-3.

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, Cincinnati, 1 PM

Quarterback Andy Dalton is good enough to get the Bengals to the playoffs on a consistent basis but not to make them serious Super Bowl contenders. Home field and a Dalton mistake at the wrong time is enough for the Steelers to move two games ahead of .500 for the first time in the season. Steelers 34, Bengals 24. Record 5-3.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, Oakland, 1 PM

The Raiders have been a recent albatross for the Steelers, beating them three of the last four times the famed 1970s rivals have met. Derek Carr is a rising quarterback and the Raiders may be following his trajectory. The Steelers, however, will be on high alert for an upset, especially at Heinz Field. Steelers 27, Raiders 24. Record 6-3.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, Cleveland, 1 PM

There is no reason to think the Browns beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh given their quarterback situation. Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel or a quarterback to be drafted won’t be enough for Cleveland to reverse its miserable recent history against Pittsburgh. Steelers 20, Browns 13. Record 7-3

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, at Seattle, 4:25 PM

There is not a tougher road trip for an East Coast team, and it will be interesting to see how the Steelers handle this leading up to the game. The noise at CenturyLink Field will be problematic for the Steelers. So, too, will be the Seahawks’ balanced offense. Seahawks 23, Steelers 20. Record 7-4.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, Indianapolis, 8:30 PM

Ben Roethlisberger threw for a Steelers-record 522 yards in a 51-34 win over the Colts last season at Heinz Field. Andrew Luck did not exactly shy away from the challenge as he put up 400 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns. Another shootout – and a Colts win – burnishes Luck’s reputation as the NFL heir to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Colts 34, Steelers 27. Record 7-5.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at Cincinnati, 1 PM

The Dalton factor allows the Steelers to sweep the series between the AFC North rivals for the second season in a row. Roethlisberger always seems to play well in his native Ohio and Pittsburgh goes three games over .500 -- and puts itself in position to again win the AFC North. Steelers 30. Bengals 20. Record 8-5.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, Denver, 4:25 PM

Peyton Manning will pick apart the Steelers if they don’t put pressure on the veteran quarterback. The Steelers’ pass rush is too much of a question to think it will rattle Manning. Another shootout at Heinz Field goes against Pittsburgh. Broncos 31, Steelers 27. Record 8-6.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at Baltimore, 8:30 PM

The Steelers and Ravens are still too evenly matched to project a series sweep for Pittsburgh. Baltimore protects its home field just as Pittsburgh did almost two months earlier – and puts a serious dent in its chief rival's chance of defending its division title. Ravens 20, Steelers 10. Record 8-7.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, at Cleveland, 1 PM

The Steelers sweep the season series. Is it enough to get them into the playoffs? Steelers 27, Browns 10. Record 9-7