By Christopher DiMarino
I frequently visit NFL.com and their stories fuel many of my articles. I like the perspective of how much coverage a league website gives the Steelers. This time, I saw a quick breakdown of the schedule that was just released. I already broke down the opponents, but now we have a concept of timing. The first thing I saw was a week 4 bye week. I will take an early bye week over a late one like this past year (week 11). I think a bye week is a good opportunity to recover from a slow start, and helps injured players come back and contribute.
The opener is against the newly restructured Denver Broncos and is a loaded game. I\’m happy to play Peyton Manning early in the season and before he’s had time to build a rapport with his wide receivers and tune his timing. At the same time, it will be an early test of how much pressure the Steeler defense is capable of providing. I know Manning is a warrior, but I have to believe that he will be apprehensive early on. Overcoming the team that ended your previous season is always a big boost well. The NFL.com article thinks that Manning will challenge the Steelers pass defense and age concerns, but I think it\’s deeper than that. I think this will be one of the best games of the year.
Not too surprisingly they listed a game against the Baltimore Ravens as a key matchup. Ravens fans took solace in owning the AFC North division last year, but I don\’t see that happening again. I give the Ravens as much respect as I can (given I hate them) but I still think the Cincinnati Bengals will be the main team to challenge Pittsburgh. So while the Steelers went 0-2 against the Ravens last season, they swept the Bengals. You also have to consider that the Steelers have a slightly easier schedule than the Ravens. I believe the Steelers will lead the AFC North\’s transformation to a 3 headed monster.
The game against the Dallas Cowboys is listed as a pinnacle point. Looking at the aspect that it will be the Steelers first time back in that stadium since a Super Bowl loss is interesting. As much as I believe the players don\’t think it will affect them, once they step into that locker room it will all come flooding back. Also, Dallas was a poor performer at home (if not overall) last year, and a win here could be decisive only a few weeks away from the playoffs.
The most interesting thing that I noticed is how the Steelers again have many of their inter-divisional games at the end of the year. The Steelers go 6 weeks before playing an AFC North team and play these teams 5 times in the last 7 weeks. This is a much bigger factor than you might think. The AFC as a conference is a very tough place to secure a wild card spot. Not having an idea of who will win the division until the very end will create a lot of stress late in the season. I think that the Steelers can survive a slow start as long as they dominate when it counts at the end of the year.
The Steelers have one Thursday and Monday night game. Thankfully they\’re not in adjacent weeks. That means that after playing the Philadelphia Eagles on a Sunday, they will have a short week to prepare for the Tennessee Titans on a Thursday. Subsequently, they will then have an extra long week to prepare for the Bengals. They\’ll gain a day preparing for the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night. This will result in a slightly reduced week of prep before the Steelers travel to Baltimore the same week. Finally, the opponent after the bye week is the Eagles.
Looking this deeply into the schedule this early is not as useful as it will be later in the year. However, I\’m the type of person that likes to know things as soon as they become available. If you\’re like me then you\’re probably losing it with anticipation for the upcoming season. Hopefully the draft can augment a team primed to perform at a high level this year.