As usual, it's a fantastic time to be a Pittsburgh sports fan. The Steelers are in first place, the Penguins are in first place, Pitt is #3 in the country in hoops, and the Pirates aren't distracting us from any of it with their hot stove moves. But which team has you the most amped going forward? Some cases are made after the jump.
Record: 9-3, 1st in AFC North
Reasons for optimism: Should finish no worse than 12-4 with a remaining schedule that includes the Bengals, Jets, Panthers, and Browns; roster full of players who've won one or two championships in Pittsburgh; hot at the right time, winning three straight and four of five; 3-1 in games decided by a field goal or less.
Reasons for pessimism: Injuries, injuries, injuries; the "should I worry about a fine" factor on defense; a weak secondary; an offensive line in shambles; kicking/punting game completely overhauled without a familiarity of Heinz Field; the fact that New England, who they could face in the postseason, completely embarrassed them earlier this season.
Bottom line: A reasonable scenario would be winning a home playoff game and rolling the dice in the AFC Championship, where anything could happen. But I just don't know if they have the stamina to hoist the Lombardi Trophy when it's all said and done. I hope I'm wrong.
Record: 20-8-2, 42 points, 1st in Atlantic Division
Reasons for optimism: 11 straight wins; 5th in the NHL in goals per game; 3rd in the NHL in goals against; Sidney Crosby holding a 10-point lead on the NHL's second-leading scorer; Kris Letang 4th in NHL in +/-; goaltending position solidified with two capable netminders; two Finals appearances since 2008 and one Cup, with ample playoff appearances among the core; as loaded of a roster as you will find in the league; doing this without Jordan Staal.
Reasons for pessimism: Evgeni Malkin scoring just 8 goals in 26 games; the possibility that Fleury could revert back to his early-season form; the health of Staal once he returns.
Bottom line: This team is built to win a Stanley Cup and they're already playing like it. If they can sustain that level of play and stay healthy, there's no reason why King Crosby and friends can't hoist a second Cup.
Record: 10-0, 0-0 Big East, #3 in AP and Coaches Polls
Reasons for optimism: Jamie Dixon's presence; extremely deep team; no hiccups on their early-season schedule, with some nice wins; 4th in the nation in rebounds per game and assists per game; a veteran team with three seniors and two juniors getting major minutes.
Reasons for pessimism: As usual at this point in the season, very few real tests on the schedule; another challenging year ahead in the Big East, which has four teams in the top 10, five in the top 12, and six in the top 25; the dark cloud that hangs over their head during March Madness.
Bottom line: It should be a typical Pitt season: they'll perform well in the Big East, win 20-something games, enter the tournament somewhere between a 1-3 seed, and end up among the final 8 or 16 teams playing basketball. It's too hard to predict anything beyond that in college hoops.