What a difference a year can make.
At least that seems to be the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers when looking at the 2016 regular season schedule released Thursday night.
After dealing with a schedule last season that was statistically the most difficult in the league, the Steelers got what, at least on paper, looks to be a considerably less daunting path to the playoffs. The overall winning percentage of the Steelers opponents in 2016 is .473, a far cry from 2015 where the percentage was .578 — by far the toughest in the NFL.
Sure, we know plenty will change between now and when the Steelers open in Washington for the first Monday Night Football game of the season, but we’ll still take a look at some of the good, the bad and the ugly in the Steelers’ 2016 schedule.
It’s pretty hard not to look at the fact that the Steelers’ longest road trip of the season is a Week 6 trip to Miami. That’s not exactly like having to travel to Seattle or Denver, eh? In fact, thanks to a heavy dose of NFC and AFC East opponents on the schedule and the Steelers’ divisional trips, the Steelers will average a touch over 300 miles per road game this season.
That is an absolutely massive advantage for the Steelers who, thanks to plenty of easy road trips, won’t have to worry about being road-weary in 2016. This could pay huge dividends later in the season and potentially into a deep postseason run.
Another positive is not only where the Steelers’ bye week comes in the schedule but also the opponents that are sandwiched in between it. No team wants their bye to come too early in the season, and the Steelers were fortunate to get theirs smack-dab in the middle of the season in Week 8.
Couple this with the fact that the Steelers will get their bye after hosting the New England Patriots, and it should help give Pittsburgh extra time to heal and prepare for trip to Baltimore to play a Ravens squad that should be one of the better teams in the AFC next season.
The Week 12 trip to Indianapolis on Thanksgiving night is going to make the leftovers all the more tasty. We know all about Ben Roethlisberger’s exploits against the Colts defense the past two seasons, but Andrew Luck and company should make this one of the better games on the schedule. This one could have significant playoff ramifications when it’s all said and done.
If you are looking for negatives on the schedule, Weeks 14, 15 and 16 could prove to be a challenging stretch if the Steelers are battling for a playoff spot late in the season. It starts with a trip to Buffalo against the Bills, who might be a playoff contender, and the weather could be a major factor (snow and wind, anyone?).
Follow that up with a trip to Cincinnati to face a tough Bengals squad with a home crowd that will be “motivated,” and getting a win might be a tall task.
The final game of December happens to fall on Christmas and, while at home, the visiting Ravens will be ready to challenge the Steelers for divisional supremacy in what is sure to be a another in a long line of classic games between the rivals.
To be fair, I’m sure most Steelers fans are not exactly saddened by the unusual trifecta of games on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. However, it’s probably fair to conclude that the team itself isn’t doing cartwheels over it. (James Harrison certainly isn’t.) There is no question it’s not optimal for the players, but the good news is that two of the three games will be at home.
Even with Vontaze Burfict suspended for the Week 2 home contest against the Bengals, this game has all the necessary ingredients to be a flat-out nasty grudge match between two teams that hate each other. If this game is anything like we’ve seen the past couple of seasons, make sure you hide the children.
Image credit: Brook Ward