The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: How will the Steelers’ late-season primetime gauntlet against high-ranked opponents shape their year?
The NFL released its team schedules for the 2017 season, and, to be frank, I’m not too happy with how the Steelers’ schedule lines up. I’ll have more on that later.
But one thing that sticks out is the fact that some of their toughest games all seem to be bunched up together late in the season, while much of their first-half schedule is filled with teams of lower expectations.
Following a Bye after Week Eight, and games against the Colts and Titans, the Steelers will face, consecutively, the Packers at home, the Bengals on the road, the Ravens at home, and then the Patriots at home. The first three games (plus the Titans game) are all primetime slots, while the Patriots game is also going to be a featured evening game.
Following a season in which they reached the AFC Championship game, it’s understandable that the league would want to feature the Steelers. And following a season in which the league’s ratings dipped in primetime largely due to lackluster matchups, it’s also understandable that they would want to feature one of their premiere franchise in quality matchups. That they are all expected to be in contention late in the season is also important for viewership.
But what kind of toll is that going to take on the team to run that gauntlet? Back-to-back tough divisional games, with the second of them coming on a short week, in primetime, only to turn around and have to play the Patriots? At least three of those four games are at home.
I’m inclined to think that the Steelers are going to have to feast as much as they can on the first half of their schedule in order to gain a cushion against the worst-case scenario of trying to get through games 11 through 14, because that’s going to be a tough stretch to get through, and they may take a couple of important losses on their way out.