AFC & NFC Championship Game Predictions

I’m not going to lie, I’m still crying inside after that heartbreaking lost last Sunday in Denver. As a Pittsburgh fan, it is a tough pill to swallow. To be so close to the upset, so close to the AFC Championship game, so close to another 6-seed run, but unfortunately the NFL Gods are a cruel bunch.

For now, I’ll have to settle on watching the so-called Manning-Brady rivalry and a very intriguing match-up in the NFC. Since neither game boasts the Steelers and I’m still bitter about last week’s outcome I won’t be posting my usual in-depth position breakdowns. Rather, I’ll just do a quick analysis and prediction of each game.

I will be posting a few free-agent target articles later this week about the Steelers’ off-season plans, so stay tuned. As always enjoy the games and Championship Sunday.

 

New England  Patriots 26 – Denver Broncos 10

This isn’t because I’m being a disgruntled Steelers fan, it simply is the fact Brady is 11-5 against Manning all-time. Yes, I know ESPN keeps saying their 2-2 in the playoffs, but Brady’s Patriots have still outscored Manning’s Colts and Broncos 94-81 in the postseason (all-time New England has outscored Manning-led teams 479-392). Add in the fact, Manning has been lackluster all year, a routine playoff choke artist, and he has thrown at least one interception in all but 2 of their 16 contests against one another – I just don’t see Peyton winning this one. Manning’s has thrown a total of 22 picks in their so-called ‘rivalry’ compared to Brady’s 12.

Passing Yards, TD:INT Ratio in 16-Game Rivalry

Brady – 3,956 yards, 29:12

Manning – 4,839 yards, 33:22

 

Add in the fact the Steelers’ exposed Denver’s soft zone coverage twice this season with shallow and deep slant patterns. The Steelers’ did that with and without Antonio Brown. The Patriots offense runs through Julian Edelman’s ability to run the slant and I don’t believe there’s a better team in the NFL at running the slant combo patterns in the NFL than the Patriots. I just cannot see any outcome where Manning leading his team past a completely healthy New England squad (maybe Brock Osweiler can though). I also do expect a surprisingly healthy dose of Stephen Jackson this afternoon. The Pats signed him for a reason and the NFL is about to see why. Here’s to another Super Bowl featuring the team everyone loves to hate.

 

Arizona Cardinals 22 – Carolina Panthers 21

To me this is the game to watch. Arizona has been the most well-balanced team all year on both sides of the ball. Yet, Carolina is a juggernaut at home. I was wrong about the Seattle upset last week, but I still have my doubts. Yes, the Panthers won, but they were outscored 24-0 in the second half. They cannot have a repeat performance like that against this Cardinals team. The Panthers offense runs through Cam Newton (161 passing yards and 1 TD last week) and they’ll need him to win this one, not rely on a breakout game from Jonathan Stewart (106 yards with 2TDs vs. Seattle). I believe the Panthers defense will keep this one close, but the Cardinals are a scrappy team. I like the various looks this defense gives with their front seven and I believe they can shut down the explosive run game Carolina has. Dwight Freeney and the versatile safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon to wreak havoc for Cam and Co. forcing Cam to beat them with his arm – something I don’t believe he can do against this secondary. Ultimately, Bruce Arians’ aggressive play-calling will the difference in this one. I see the Cards winning this one in the fourth after the go-ahead score and 2-point conversion for the W. Bold prediction I know, but so was Arizona calling Fitz’ number twice in a row to win in overtime last week.

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Pittsburgh vs. Denver Preview and the rest of the Divisional Round Predictions

So, the Steelers did it. They toppled Cincinnati once again circa 2005-2006 season when they went into Paul Brown Stadium and crushed the Bengals playoff hopes. While leaving head coach Marvin Lewis with an 0-7 playoff record and handing their AFC North rivals one of embarrassing postseason loses in recent memory is great, they have an extremely brutal task ahead of them Sunday evening. They’ll look ahead to take down the AFC’s number one seeded, Denver Broncos. Unlike their 05-06 run, the Steelers are not coming into Denver with the same level of optimism. Their Wild Card game has left their roster with a number of bumps, bruises, and questionable injuries to a number of starters. However, if the NFL Playoffs have proven anything over the years its that anything can happen at any given time. Maybe the magic will continue. Maybe history will repeat itself. After all their championship run ten years ago started in very similar fashion.

Quarterbacks

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Peyton Manning – Interestingly enough this match-up between two HOF quarterbacks may very well be decided by their backups instead. As of this article’s publication Big Ben’s status is still uncertain. While it is expected he’ll play, his arm strength and durability are certainty in question. There’s no doubting the toughness of Ben, but in a game where the Steelers will need to throw the ball his ability to make plays with his arm becomes all the more important. On the other side, the legendary Manning is getting his first start since Week 9 and hasn’t looked like his HOF-self this entire season. While the Broncos comeback win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 17 was thrilling to watch it was hardly because of Gary Kubiak’s decision to put Manning in the game (Manning went 5/9 for 69 yards). The Broncos explosive running game won them the game, but Manning got the headlines. As inspirational and sentimental as a Manning-led postseason run sounds – it unfortunately – is just that. Manning hasn’t proven he can lead this team to win all year. Sure they started off 7-0, but that was hardly because of Peyton (7:11 TD:INT ratio over that span). Yet, when backup Brock Osweiler stepped in for the injured Manning it seemed that the Broncos finally began clicking on offense. Unfortunately, Kubiak is going with the future-HOF over the hot-hand. A decision that may cost the Broncos, but regardless a Manning-Osweiler combo is significantly better than a 50% Big Ben and Landry Jones duo.

Edge – Broncos

 

Running Backs

Hillman/Anderson vs. Toussaint/Todman  – For now DeAngelo Williams is still listed as day-to-day. If he plays, the Steelers would certainly have the edge considering Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman proved to be a very capable duo in the last weekend’s Wild Card game against the Bengals. Toussaint managed 118 yards from scrimmage (58 yards on the ground and another 60 through the air) as Todman rumbled for 60 yards on 11 carries. If the two can manage the same level of production this week along with the return of Williams; well then the Steelers have a potential three-headed monster that could very well carry their offense even with Big Ben’s limp noodle of an arm. Unfortunately, the return of Williams is still a hypothetical, which means the Broncos explosive duo of C.J. Anderson (168 yards and 2 TD the last two weeks of season) and Ronnie Hillman (863 rushing yards and 7 TD on season) are the better options on paper.

Edge – Broncos

 

Wide Receivers

Sanders/Thomas vs. Byrant/Wheaton – As of this morning, Antonio Brown has been officially ruled out of Sunday’s game with a concussion (his first game missed since 2012). He is easily the most valuable player in this Steelers’ offense. While Big Ben may drive the car, but Brown’s the fuel for the offense. Without him (and a not-so hundred percent Ben) the Steelers will have a difficult time moving the chains against this secondary. He torched the Broncos in Week 15 for 16 catches, 189 yards, and two scores. He’s a  versatile weapon  whose absence will surely be missed. His counterparts, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton managed a combined 149 yards on 16 catches during the two teams previous meeting this year. Bryant will need to make a few more acrobatic catches like last week’s, if Pittsburgh plans on piling up any points. Meanwhile, the former Steeler, Emmanuel Sanders nearly matched Brown’s performance going for 181 yards on 10 catches and a score in their regular season battle. His partner in crime, Demaryius Thomas managed to cash in 2 of his 5 catches for touchdowns finishing with 61 yards that game. Both receiving corps are more capable of blowing up either defense, but this one may come down more to the opposing secondaries their facing rather than individual talent and quarterback play.

Edge – Broncos

 

Tight Ends

Miller vs. Daniels/Davis – In their Week 15 game, all three of these tight ends combined for a whopping 21 yards. I highly doubt that all three will have such a feeble impact on the game this Sunday. Heath Miller finished the season with 60 catches, 535 yards, and 2 TD meanwhile the Denver duo combined for 718 yards and 3 TD (this only accounts for Vernon Davis’ 201 yards in a Denver uniform). Tough to call in this one – Manning loves to lean on his tight ends, but Miller has the more impressive pedigree. Albeit, his last postseason appearance hasn’t been since 2013, one cannot ignore Davis’ insane postseason numbers – 27 catches, 600 yards, and 7 TD in 8 games.

Edge – Push

 

Defensive Line

Both defenses implore a 3-4 scheme and both have undersized lineman who use their speed, agility and finesse to attack opposing quarterbacks. This may very well be the most evenly balanced match-up in Sunday’s contest. The Denver trio of Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson weigh a combined 891 pounds and tallied 13.5 sacks on the season. Whereas the Pittsburgh trifecta of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Steve McLendon top the scales just 17 pounds heavier at 908 and muscled up just one more sack (14.5)  than the Mile High crew.

Edge – Push

 

Linebackers

Can’t recall the last time a playoff game featured two of the most ferocious and feared linebackers of their generation in it. Seeing DeMarcus Ware and James Harrison (the two combined for 134 sacks from 2007-2011 and have a combined 66 forced fumbles in their respective careers) in action is something that will bring a smile to nearly every NFL fan’s face while simultaneously bringing a frown to both quarterback’s faces in this contest. With those two gridiron legends aside, this contest really comes down to the middle linebackers. Von Miller’s 11 sacks will certainly add to the Broncos pass-rush, but in a game where both teams will likely look to establish the running game early and often the boys inside will be the X-factors. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are not household names outside of Denver, but both racked up over a hundred tackles this season (102 and 109 respectively). However, Lawrence Timmons (119 tackles on the season) may very well be the best middle linebacker in the NFL right now. Not to mention, Ryan Shazier is coming off his best game to date as a pro – 13 total tackles, 2 FF, and a fumble recovery.

Edge – Steelers

 

Secondary

What the Steelers’ fans and coaches wouldn’t give to have just one Aqib Talib or even a Chris Harris Jr. for that manner. The CB duo along with safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart helped anchor the number one overall passing defense in the NFL. The Broncos have surrender a league-best 199.6 yards per game, a 60% completion rate, and have held opposing quarterbacks to a 78.8 QBR (quarterback rating) including a 19:14 TD:INT ratio. On the flip side, the lackluster Steelers’ secondary (can anyone outside of the Steel City name their top two corners) ranks 29th in the league. Allowing 271.9 ypg, 64.3% completion rate, and a QB-friendly 90.9 QBR including a staggering 29:17 TD:INT ratio. This one is a no-brainer.

Edge – Broncos

 

Special Teams

The Steelers’ are one of the best return teams in the NFL averaging 24.2 yards on kick returns and 8.3 yards on punt returns (Denver is averaging 21.8 and 9.8 yards in those categories). Although, the Steelers’ will be without the dangerous return-weapon that is Antonio Brown. The kickers in this match-up are fairly even. Denver’s Brandon McManus went 30 for 35 on the season including a 57 yard long, but he’s never kicked in the postseason. Pittsburgh’s rookie, Chris Boswell finished the season 29 for 32 and is looking to extend his playoff streak of four-straight field goals made.

Edge – Steelers

 

In a rematch against the league’s number one offense vs. the number one defense, the numbers do not truly favor the injury-riddled Steelers. Pittsburgh is clearly out-matched in terms of overall defensive skill especially between the secondaries. The injuries and absences on offense make matters even worse for the black and gold. Even without a completely healthy Big Ben, the Steelers need DeAngelo Williams if they even want a chance to survive this one. Whether or not fans and NFL analysts want to admit it, the Broncos are a significantly less potent offense with Manning at the helm. The Denver defense was the main reason why they started 7-0, not Manning. That tiny silver ling, could bode well for the Steelers if they can capitalize on potential Peyton turnovers. Add in the factor that Manning is 11-13 in the playoffs, maybe just maybe, the Steelers could pull off a monumental upset. After all, in 2005 no one expected Pittsburgh upset the number one seeded Broncos 34-17. Unfortunately, injuries leave the possibility of a Steelers win in serious doubt.

Final Prediction: Broncos 28 Steelers 14

 

 

The rest of the Divisional Games

 

New England Patriots 21 Kansas City Chiefs 17

I really love the Chiefs and everything they have done this year. I love the fact Andy Reid has managed to pull his team out of a 1-5 start to rally off a present 11-game win streak. I love the fact Alex Smith has a 95.4 QBR rating this season. I love the fact the Chiefs defense held the Houston Texans to under 275 total yards last week. What I don’t love is the probability of the KC stealing their 12th-straight win in Foxborough. Cynical fan or not, a playoff game in Gillette Stadium always carries some level of dissension with it. Controversy withstanding, the one thing you can’t bet against is the Patriots at home – in January.

Seattle Seahawks 28 Carolina Panthers 7

I know, I know Cam Newton has been an absolute monster this season. He’s thrown and rushed for a combined 4,473 yards and 45 touchdowns while leading his team to the best record in the NFL. However, the Seahawks are the defending NFC Champions and if last week’s ugly game against the Minnesota Vikings proved anything – they find ways to win. Playoff experience will be key in this one. As amazing as the Panthers and Newton’s seasons have been (Carolina has a plus-20 turnover margin) I fancy Russel Wilson’s 7-2 postseason record over the young Cam Newton (1-2 in the playoffs).

Arizona Cardinals 18 Green Bay Packers 15

It is extremely tough to win big in the NFL. It is even tougher to win big again against a team you just faced three weeks ago. I don’t expect Arizona to wallop Green Bay 38-8 like they did in Week 16. This game has the potential to be a shootout, but I like a high intensity, defensive battle. Green Bay was able to fire on 3 out of 4 pistons last week versus Washington, but they didn’t look like the Packers of old until the second half. If they manage to start that slow against the Cardinals, they’ll be looking at a long, uphill battle Saturday night. Arizona may be one the most well coached teams in the NFL and Bruce Arians has had an extra week to gameplan for this one . The Cards will sweep the Packers, but it won’t be pretty.

 

Steelers vs. Bengals and the rest of Wild Card Weekend Predictions

This weekend will mark the beginning of the NFL playoffs along with the Steelers chance to repeat their fabled run ten years ago – can the Steelers work that 6-seed magic one more time? Even without Andy Dalton the Steelers will have a tall order against their AFC North rivals, but how well do the two teams match-up? Their playoff rubber match will decide both teams fate and perhaps the fates of some of the players/coaches involved.

Quaterbacks

AJ McCarron vs. Ben Roethlisberger – Even though he hasn’t looked like himself the last two weeks, you cannot discredit Big Ben in this matchup. If Pittsburgh plans on making a run this year it all starts with Ben. His arm and this offense are more than capable of tearing the roof off any defense in this tournament, but it starts with Ben limiting his turnovers and fixing his recent run of hasty decision making (6:7 TD/INT ratio the last four games). On the flip side, McCarron has filled in nicely for the injured Dalton and considering his superb records in high school and college it can be safe to say the former Crimson Tide star and National Championship winner will be unfazed by the pressure and severity surrounding this game.

Edge – Steelers

 

Running Backs

Hill/Bernard vs. Todman/Toussiant – As of this morning, DeAngelo Williams is officially ruled out of Saturday’s contest, leaving the T-duo of Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint as the go-to backs come kickoff. Williams was tied for a NFL-best 11 rushing touchdowns and his 907 rushing yards will surely be missed. With the  Steelers potent passing attack they might be able to squeak by with this rag-tag duo, but clearly Cincinnati has the advantage here. Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill have combined for a lousy 128 yards on the ground against the Steelers during their two seasonal games. However even with that surprising statistical consideration it is tough to bet against a respectable two-punch combo that’s helped lead the Bengals to a AFC North Divisional title against a duo of career backups that have combined for a mere 64 yards this season.

Edge – Bengals 

 

Wide Receivers

A.J. Green vs. Antonio Brown – Two of the best wide receivers in the league will be on display in this game, but only one will have the luxury of having a top-tier quarterback throwing their way. In addition the drop off in talent after Green is significant for the Bengals. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are decent slot receivers, but outside the occasional big play the Bengals aerial attack depends on Green (and Eifert). Even with Martavis Byrant’s recent run of poor form the Steelers still have capable possession man Markus Wheaton and the explosive play of Darrius Heyward-Bey to help accent Brown who has clearly elevated his game this season.

Edge – Steelers 

 

Tight Ends

Tyler Eifert vs. Heath Miller – Eifert has been a touchdown machine all year for Cincy (13 total), but he has yet to find the endzone against Pittsburgh this season. Ironically, the veteran Miller has also not been able to find pay dirt in the seasonal series either. The difference here is Miller’s 171 yards on 20 catches in their two contests this year compared to Eifert’s 81 yards on 6 catches.

Edge – Steelers

 

Defensive Line

This is may be the least talked about match-up coming into Saturday’s game, but easily one of the most intriguing ones. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have both hit double digit sacks this year (11 and 13.5 respectively). They are the anchors to not only the Bengals D-line, but also their defense – when they’re on, this team is nearly unstoppable. On the other side of the field, the explosive and agile combination of defensive ends,  Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward have produced a combined 13.5 sacks for the Steelers and continue to wreak havoc for offensive lines with their speed. However, for as good as Tuitt and Heyward have been, their combined numbers match the total of just one Carlos Dunlap.

Edge – Bengals 

 

Linebackers

This one is tough to call. Both teams have some studs in the heart of their defense. Vontaze Burfict, A.J. Hawk,  Rey Maualuga, and Vincent Rey are all tackling machines. Meanwhile Lawrence Timmons is the cornerstone to what has been a revolving door of playmakers for Blitzburgh including future HOFer James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Athur Moats, and 2015 first-rounder Bud Dupree. The Steelers rotation has been effective with each of the listed players recording at least two sacks this season, but this one is still a toss-up. The only thing guaranteed here is some bruising, heavy hits that the AFC North is known for.

Edge – Push

 

Secondary

While this breakdown still heavily favors the Bengals, the actual numbers make it slightly closer than one may think. Cincy finished the season 20th overall in pass defense while the Steelers finished at a lowly 30th in the league. However, the Steelers did manage to produce 17 interceptions compared to Cincy’s 21. Interestingly enough both teams surrendered a 64% completion rate against opposing quarterbacks – only four other teams had a worse rate (San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans). In the end the kicker is the average passing yards per game. The Steelers gave up a near league worse 272 passing yards per game (only the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints gave up more yards through the air) compared to Cincinnati’s 249.

Edge – Bengals 

 

Special Teams

Both teams have an identical 83.9% success rate on field goals this season (both went 26/31 on the year). However, the Steelers finished the season with the highest return yards from kickoffs in the NFL with 1,200 yards on 54 returns compared to Cincy’s 1,041 on 46 returns. In a game where field position will certainly play a factor such arbitrary numbers may determine the game. One must also consider the threat of Antonio Brown in the Steelers’ punt return game. And while the Bengals have completed all 27 of their extra point attempts, the Steelers league-best 72.7% (8/11) on two-point conversions may truly be what decides this game. Playing it safe with PATs doesn’t always give your team the best chance to win.

Edge – Steelers

 

Final Prediction – Steelers 26 – Bengals 20

Ultimately it comes down to quarterbacks and coaching. Big Ben is more than capable of taking this game over and will more than likely have to do so, if Pittsburgh wants to advance. Marvin Lewis hasn’t won a playoff game in six appearances whereas Mike Tomlin has consistently found ways to win this season (in addition to a 5-4 playoff record). The Steelers defense lives and dies with the turnover battle, but in a game that will likely go down to the wire – it will be the coaches who decide it. I fancy Tomlin outlasting Lewis, who has yet to survive the pressure of the postseason.

The rest of the Wild Card Game Predictions

Kansas City Chiefs 30 – Houston Texans 17

The Chiefs are easily the hottest team in the AFC right now riding a 10-game winning streak and I just do not see the Texans (even at home) being able to stop them. Brian  Hoyer and DeAndre Hopkins will give the Chiefs some problems, but ultimately the Chiefs D-line will out-muscle and out-hustle the Texans offensive line.

Minnesota Vikings 17 – Seattle Seahawks 14

For as stellar as Russel Wilson has been the second half of this season (21:1 TD/INT ratio since Week 11) I still like the Vikings at home. This is the Vikings first home playoff game since 2009 and you better believe the crowd will factor into this one. The Seahawks have historically been a weaker road team (5-3 this year on the road) and I like a playoff motivated Adrian Peterson over a surging Russel Wilson.

Washington Redskins 38 – Green Bay Packers 28

This one comes down to Kirk Cousins at home over a lackluster Green Bay squad. Despite the common narrative, Rodgers’ isn’t all that great in the postseason posting only a 7-5 record in 12 games. Considering how inconsistent the Packers have been all year I just cannot go against a ‘Captain Kirk’ Cousins at home. Especially not when he’s put up 2,170 yards and a 16:2 TD/INT ratio at FedEx Field this year, including four 300-plus yard games.

 

 

 

 

 

2015 NL Wild Card Prediction: Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

With the National League Wild Card game only a few hours away I’m going to keep this story short and sweet. The  game is featuring a NL Central Division rivalry with two of the game’s best teams and two of MLB’s best pitchers, Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole. That showdown on the mound is truly where this game will be decided.

We all know the narrative for tonight’s game. Arrieta has been on fire since the All-Star break. His current run is one for the ages and he’s looking to continue on his current 22-scoreless innings streak tonight at PNC Park. He doesn’t hurt that in five starts he’s 3-1 with 0.75 ERA against the Buccos.

Now, Cole hasn’t been all that bad against the opposition either. Posting a 2-1 record with a 2.13 ERA against the Cubs this year. Yet, I’m not so sure the young buc is ready for the sort of pressure tonight’s game brings. This is his moment to step up, take over the game, and lead his team towards the beginning of a potential World Series run. Problem is – I don’t think Cole is ready to do that quite yet.

Pirates fans will detest that fact claiming he’s been stellar all year round and while that is certainly true, this one-game playoff is a completely different beast. This is one game where you cannot mess up; you cannot let the anticipation of the moment break you. Personally, I think tonight may be the night where Cole finally shows his age.

While the home crowd may help him I still see this match-up favoring the Cubbies and Arrieta. While Arreita’s comments earlier this week may certainly rile up Pirates fans I don’t think he at all will be affected by this situation. On the contrary, the fact he came out and called Pirates’ fans out tells me he is ready to relish tonight’s moment – he wants it all on him. An attribute I don’t currently see from Cole (regardless of what the Pittsburgh press says).

Plus, we all have to keep in mind that during last year’s game versus the San Francisco Giants PNC Park’s boisterous crowd feel silent following Brandon Crawford’s grand slam. The crowd – the city – wasn’t the same after that. After the 4th inning the game was over.  So much for being one of the loudest stadiums in the MLB; fans will need to stay loud throughout the entire game if they want to have a chance at rattling Arrieta and Co. Albeit, looking at the Cubs lineup and seeing power hitting first baseman, Anthony Rizzo whose career average is .353 against Cole, history may very well repeat itself tonight (doesn’t help that rookie sensation, Kris Bryant is hitting .333 against Cole)

I will admit that this game is all on Arrieta. He needs to continue pitching damn near perfect and he needs to pitch a whole game. If he can pitch into the 8th inning or even a complete game, the Buccos will lose. However, if he is pulled in the sixth or shortly after then this will give the Pirates and their stellar bullpen a serious advantage.

This game comes down to pitching and right now you cannot bet against Arrieta. Granted this is October and we all know there’s a majestic quality to playoff baseball where anything can happen, but I think fate is on the Cubs’ side tonight.

My X-Factors outside of Arrieta and Cole

Chicago Cubs: Rizzo – He belted 31 homers this year with 101RBI. Considering his impressive average against Cole he could pose a serious problem for the Pirates tonight.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Starling Marte – Yes, Andrew McCutchen is the Buccos best player, but tonight Marte needs to continue coming up with clutch hits and fielding (Marte’s career average is .235 against Arrieta). Cutch will do his thing, but the Pirates need Marte to get on base and be a base running threat all game.

Final Prediction

Chicago Cubs 2 Pittsburgh Pirates 0

North Shore Festivities

PNC Park Photo Credit: Neil Strebig

PNC Park Photo Credit: Neil Strebig

A few co-workers and I decided to head on down to North Shore this past Thursday to catch the afternoon Cubs games. Unfortunately, the Buccos lost (and lost big) to the Cubbies, but we all still had a blast. After the game we managed to bum some tickets for the Death Cab For Cutie show down at Stage AE that evening.

You can check out our adventures from the day here! 

**Note: all the photos in the slideshow are accredited to  Neil Strebig**

Pittsburgh Voted One Of The Best Sport Cities In America

Anyone who lives in Pittsburgh knows that is the epitome of a sports town. The city bleeds black and gold for its trio of professional franchises, so it should come as no surprise that Pittsburgh made Wallethub.com’s list of Best and Worst Cities For Sports Fans (check out full article here).

The rankings took in consideration for all five major sports: football, baseball, hockey, basketball, and soccer (yes the MLS has finally gained enough recognition to be considered with the fab four). The Burgh was voted the best city for hockey fans and was kept out of the number one spot due to its subpar rankings in basketball and soccer – ranking 85th and 95th.

Yet, how can a city with only three sport teams crack the top five? Is the allure of only having one team to focus on during the height of each sport season? I mean without a basketball team fans can focus on hockey during the winter months; without a MLS team football fans can focus on baseball and the start of American football rather than battling for viewership with sports’ sharing the same season.

I think having only three professional sports teams helps, but the true passion behind Pittsburgh’s fandom comes from the majestic allure each of its team’s pull in. The allure starts with all three teams sharing the same colors – the legendary black and gold. No other city in America can say that and it is a novelty many Pittsburghers take great pride in. Despite sharing color schemes each team captivates fans in their own unique way.

Steelers Nation - Photo Credit: Wikimedia via creative commons

Steelers Nation – Photo Credit: Wikimedia via creative commons

Take the Steelers for example. Once the laughing stock of the NFL, then suddenly -seemingly overnight – a young ambitious coach by the name of, Chuck Noll, created the most successful franchise of the 1970s. The team’s fan base grew with success, but so did the team’s appeal. The Steelers currently hold the most Super Bowl titles out of any NFL team, continue to be a perennial playoff contender, have produced a plethora of Hall of Fame players, and to top it all off they have had only three head coaches in the franchise’s history. That sort of tradition and reputation for sustained success is what makes Steelers Nation so powerful.

The Pirates 1979 World Series win helped catapult Pittsburgh into sport city folklore, crowning the nickname, The City of Champions. However, unlike their North Shore counterparts, the Pirate’s charm comes from a sling of historical MLB moments. Whether, it be their epic 3-1 comeback in the 1925 World Series over the Washington Senators (a feat that has never been duplicated) or ‘The Greatest Homerun Ever’ Bill Mazeroski’s  solo walk-off homerun to give the Buccos a 10-9 victory of the New York Yankees. Their place in baseball immortality secured. The Pirates have always and will always be a fan favorite to any baseball fan. Producing legends like Roberto Clemente, Dock Ellis, Tim Wakefield, Barry Bonds, and today’s current superstar, Andrew McCutchen. Even on the wrong side of history, during their two-decade playoff drought, the Pirate fans remained loyal. Today with the help of Cutch and Co., they’ve gone from lovable losers to possible NL Central champs.

Lastly, comes the late-blooming Penguins. The Pens were an awful franchise in their early years and one that certainly played third fiddle behind the Steelers and Pirates in the 1970s. Then suddenly, in 1984, the arrival of Mario Lemieux changed everything. The lowly franchise quickly became a NHL powerhouse winning back-to-back cups in 1991 and 1992. Producing stars and fan favorites like Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Luc Robitaille, Martin Straka, and Darius Kasparaitis the Penguins rallied off 11 consecutive playoff seasons from 1990 to 2001. The team’s darkest hours came in the 2000s, where superstar after superstar left the team (we all remember the Jagr to Capitals trade and Kovalev’s final season) and fans watched as new stories about the team’s possible move to Kansas City caused city wide panic. Yet, under the guidance of Penguins legend-turned owner, Super Mario managed to produce one last bit of magic –striking a deal to keep the team in Pittsburgh. Uniquely, enough history repeated itself as the deplorable 2000 seasons (just like those 1970s seasons) paved way for the Penguins to strike gold in the NHL draft again. In 2005, they drafted Sidney Crosby – this generation’s Lemieux. With the help of Sid the Kid and fellow superstars Kris Letang, Malkin, and Fluery the Penguins are in the midst of a 9-year playoff streak with one more Stanley Cup to boot. The teams history of epic highs and pitiful lows make it one of the most intriguing in all of sports. Not to mention the interstate rivalry between the Flyers and the love/hate relationship Sid the Kid produces with rival NHL fans.

Now, I don’t want to dive into the decade-by-decade history of each team. Instead, I just want to reiterate that Pittsburgh is one of the few cities in America that remains loyal to their teams no matter the roster, the coaches, or the superstars. There’s no doubt the early success of the Steelers and the Pirates certainly helped aid the Burgh’s unmatched fan loyalty (as did the subsequent list of Hall of Famers for all three teams).

However, there is no denying the true reason why Pittsburgh is such a sports town is because it loves all their sports teams. If you visit St. Louis you quickly realize it is a baseball town in love with their Cardinals above all else. If you swing through Detroit it is easier to realize they love their Red Wings more than the Pistons, Tigers, and Lions combined. Heck, Green Bay is strictly a football town. And then you have Pittsburgh. The lone city in America that treats each team with the attention, respect, and passion it deserves during their respected season. It may be fair to say that Steelers Nation draws the most nationwide attention, but make no mistake this city loves the Penguins and they’ll raise the Jolly Roger every chance they get.

I don’t care what the survey says, Pittsburgh has the best fans and the Burgh is the best sports city in America. Period.