It looks like business will be booming for the Pittsburgh Steelers based on the 2016 regular season schedule that was just released.
For the most part, the Steelers have a pretty easy schedule — especially compared with last season’s schedule, which was ranked as one of the hardest in the NFL. This season’s schedule is tied for 23th in strength of schedule and has no extended roadtrips. It also features four primetime games and three holiday games — Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day — and the Steelers have a history of playing well when the bright lights are on. The Steelers get to play the NFC Least, which will almost certainly pad Pittsburgh’s record.
The schedule is very much front-loaded. In the first seven weeks, the Steelers play four teams that made the playoffs last year (Washington, Cincinnati, Kansas City and New England), plus the 10-win Jets and the generally solid Eagles and Dolphins. After the Week 8 bye, though, the schedule becomes far easier.
The loss of wide receiver Martavis Bryant (who is out for the season with a drug-related suspension) and the still-questionable Pittsburgh defense (will they finally draft a cornerback?) do pose potential problems. Still, with perhaps the most potent offense and a defense that will be improved in the draft, the Steelers can come out of the regular season with a 12-4 record, maybe even 13-3.
Week 1 — at Washington
Kirk Cousins had a breakout year for Washington last year, but the Steelers are still a stronger team overall. Washington’s defense allowed 122.6 rush yards last season (tied-26th), so this could be an opportunity for Le’veon Bell to make a strong statement coming off last year’s knee injury. The commanding Pittsburgh offense will be raring to go, so Steelers fans will very likely walk out of FedEx Field yelling, “You like that?”
Week 2 — vs. Cincinnati Bengals
This game is going to be flat-out nasty. But it’ll also be fun. After last year’s playoff game, it’s fair to say these two teams hate each other — who could forget the attempted murder of Antonio Brown by Vontaze Burfict and the penalty-upon-penalty craziness that set up the Steelers’ winning field goal? Burfict won’t play in this game because of the suspension from that hit on Brown, but this game will be a physical one nonetheless. The game will be an early test for the Steelers, against the team that has somehow replaced the Ravens as their biggest rival.
Week 3 — at Philadelphia Eagles
There’s no question here — the Steelers are, by far, the better team in Pennsylvania. The Eagles were all over the place last season, and it’s not yet clear what shape the team will take post-Chip Kelly, with the baffling head coaching hire of Doug Pederson. The Eagles’ defense is likely to be over-matched by the high-powered Pittsburgh offense. And who knows what Sam Bradford will do this year? Still, the Steelers have struggled in Philadelphia, losing their last eight (most recently in 2012).
Week 4 — vs. Kansas City Chiefs
It’s often hard to know what to make of the Chiefs, especially because it’s hard to truly be scared of Alex Smith. But the Kansas City defense is absolutely no laughing matter and could pose problems for the Steelers without Bryant. Pittsburgh has also struggled to defend top-notch tight ends, and Travis Kelce is dangerous. It’ll be fun to watch Bell and Jamaal Charles do their things on opposite sides of the ball — especially after both suffered season-ending knee injuries last year.
Week 5 — vs. New York Jets
The marquee matchup here will be Antonio Brown vs. Darrelle Revis (who grew up in Aliquippa and went to Pitt), but the game will come down to the supporting cast. If another Steeler receiver can step up and take some of the heat off Brown, Pittsburgh should be successful. Ryan Fitzpatrick is still in contract negotiations with the Jets, so New York is entering the season without a clear-cut choice at quarterback. (Could we see Geno Smith?)
Week 6 — at Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins need Ryan Tannehill to play like the franchise quarterback he occasionally resembles, and bringing in Adam Gase (who helped Jay Cutler have a strong year last season) could help. Miami, however, still doesn’t have much of a secondary, and Roethlisber & Co. can torch the Dolphins.
Week 7 — vs. New England Patriots
Sorry, what’d you say? I couldn’t quite hear you because my headset has mysteriously stopped working…. There’s no love lost between these two teams. Bill Belichick seems to have the Steelers’ number, but Pittsburgh will hope that having Bell back on the field this go-round (he was suspended for drug-related issues the last time these two teams played) can break the cycle of losses. And, isn’t Brady close to 56 years old at this point? Of course, Gronk will be Gronk, so Pittsburgh will need a better game plan than in last season’s game (where he erupted) to contain him.
Week 8 — BYE WEEK
This middle-of-the-season bye week is a pretty nice time to get some rest, especially coming off a tough game against the Patriots. The Steelers will have some extra time to prep for an away game at the Ravens, who are always tough (though the Ravens have their bye week the same week).
Week 9 — at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were awful last season (5-11), but it was likely an anomaly for a typically strong team. Baltimore lost so many of their games by small margins, and those games are basically just coin flips. The flips went against them last year but won’t necessarily this year. The Ravens also suffered majorly from injuries; Joe Flacco, Steve Smith Sr., Justin Forsett and Terrell Suggs all spent time on the IR. Two of the Ravens’ only five wins came against Pittsburgh, which can’t have made the Steelers too happy. While this rivalry might not have the intensity it did when Hines Ward and Ray Lewis were playing, the Steelers will be looking to take it to the hated Ravens.
Week 10 — vs. Dallas Cowboys
The later in the season, the easier it typically is to play the Cowboys. Jerry Jones has a habit of paying big money for superstars past their prime but then can’t afford to pay for backups, who get more playing time as the season progresses and injuries mount. Tony Romo and Roethlisberger both have phenomenal arms that are a treat to watch, and the game could feature some deep throws to Dez Bryant and Brown. But the Steelers are still a more well-rounded team, and Bryant wasn’t the same last season after foot surgery.
Week 11 — at Cleveland Browns
The Brownies are a must-win for any team looking to retain its self-respect. Cleveland’s quarterback situation is still up in the air (will it be RGIII, or will the Browns draft a quarterback?), but the Steelers’ defensive ends and linebackers must be salivating at the idea of manhandling someone relatively inexperienced.
Week 12 — at Indianapolis Colts
It will be time to give thanks for a Colts defense that has been awful the last two times the teams have played. (Indianapolis gave up 96 points in back-to-back losses.) Roethlisberger, especially, seems to enjoy playing the Colts, throwing for 10 touchdowns and close to 900 yards in those two games. This Thanksgiving matchup marks the eighth time the Steelers have played on the holiday.
In all honesty, all the fans probably want to see is more of this:
Week 13 — vs. New York Giants
Roethlisberger has cemented himself as the best quarterback to come out of the 2004 Draft, but it’s still got to be fun to show off against a guy who was taken ahead of you. The Giants are always a question mark because you never know which Eli Manning you’re going to get — are you going to get the Super Bowl MVP Eli, or are you going to get the Eli who threw 27 interceptions in 2013? Regardless, the game will feature two of the best wideouts in the business in Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., so this game is worth watching almost just for that.
Week 14 — at Buffalo Bills
With Rex Ryan as head coach, anything is possible. (Has he declared the Bills are winning the next 12 Super Bowls, yet?) Ryan has always been a more defensive guy than an offensive guy — remember, he’s the guy who thought Mark Sanchez was the answer for the Jets — and he brought his twin brother in at the end of last season to be Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, so we’ll get a double dose of Ryan philosophy this year. In 2015, the Bills pretty much lucked into a half-decent quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, but it’s unclear whether he’ll have a stable sophomore season. Sure, it’d be nice to lose to the Bills on purpose to thank them for beating the Jets last year and sending the Steelers to the playoffs, but maybe Pittsburgh can promise to just not score more than 30 points.
Week 15 — at Cincinnati Bengals
This game could come at a crucial time, right before a late playoff push. (But, since Bell has been injured twice against Cincinnati, maybe Mike Tomlin should consider sitting him?) The Bungles will have Burfict back for this game — just in time for him to be suspended for another dirty hit. Both teams will play with that playoff intensity, especially if the playoff picture is still hanging in the balance. Expect another battle.
Week 16 — vs. Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh will be looking to give the Ravens an extra-special Christmas present this year: a loss. While the NFL typically tries to avoid scheduling games on Christmas Day (most of the games will be played on Dec. 24) this matchup is just too good not to put in primetime. The Steelers will likely be beat up after a tough and physical matchup against the Bengals, so they could be vulnerable. But, because it’s a game against the Ravens and could have playoff implications, there’s no doubt Pittsburgh will be ready.
The game prompted this amusing Twitter exchange between the Steelers and the Ravens:
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 15, 2016
Week 17 — vs. Cleveland Browns
The Browns always seem to start the season with promise before finding creative ways to fall into disarray. Who knows, maybe in week 17 we’ll see Johnny Manziel back at quarterback for Cleveland, Josh Gordon on the offensive line and John Madden at head coach. Stranger things have happened in Cleveland.
Image credit: Keith Allison