The NFL is continually stretching out its offseason, despite the new cycle already being 365 days a year, by turning casual news and dates into significant events.
From extending the draft to three days, to turning the opening of the free agency period into a circus, to, most absurdly, making the schedule release a spectacle, complete with a television special, the league knows it has the power to do so because people will still pay attention.
So the schedule is released, and we now know when the Pittsburgh Steelers will play each game. That still doesn’t tell us much, and making predictions of success or failure based on how the schedule looks in April is absurd, though that doesn’t stop anybody from doing it.
Still, we can examine what the schedule looks like to make reasonable observations.
For example, the Steelers are slated for the maximum five primetime games despite coming off back-to-back non-winning seasons and not having been in the playoffs since 2011, where they were one-and-done in the wildcard round after losing the division.
Even last season, the Steelers only had four primetime games, which is rare for one of the league’s flagship teams. In fact, the Steelers have been selected to participate in the inaugural Thursday night game on CBS, in Week Two against the Baltimore Ravens.
Despite also missing the playoffs last season, both of the games between the two teams are slotted for primetime in 2014, though the ‘Tomlingate’ incident might perhaps have something to do with networks’ interest in airing those contests.
It’s worth noting that the league is instituting the right to begin flexing games far earlier than in the past, as early as Week Five this season, and three of the Steelers’ five primetime games come after that point.
Two of those games are on Monday night, however, and are thus not subject to being flexed out, but the second Ravens game could eventually face a starting time change depending on how the season develops.
While they have the earliest possible Thursday night game, however, they also have the latest possible Bye Week this year, which will take place in Week 12. Whether that’s good or bad depends on how the season goes, other than the trite observation that it’ll be a while before they can rest, but that they’ll have more rest for the home stretch.
On a positive note, the Steelers won’t have to travel further west than Tennessee in 2014. They face the NFC South and the AFC South this season, and their AFC West opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, travels to Pittsburgh.
Both of the games between the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals take place in December this season, including the season finale at home.
The Bengals have been the best team in the division over the course of the past three seasons, so if the Steelers are in the hunt this year, then December figures to be even more crucial than normal, with two contests against the top dog to close out the year.