Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Steelers Hoping for a 12 Game Season? A Look at the First Four Weeks

The NFL released their 2011 schedule last night. Based on last year's records, the Steelers have the 28th-hardest schedule in the League. That's due partly to the fact that the Bengals and Browns finished a combined 9-23 in 2010 and partly because the AFC North gets to play the NFC West where no team had a winning record last year.

Don't be fooled.

First, every team in the AFC North plays the NFC West, so that is not an advantage within the division. That only helps in competing for the wild card. Second, Baltimore plays Cincinnati and Cleveland twice so that doesn't help against the strongest division rival. Third, the Steelers come out of the box with one of the most difficult four game schedules ever. Think last year with Atlanta, @Tennessee, @Tampa and Baltimore, all without the starting quarterback, was tough? Take a look at this year.

Week 1, 9/11 @ Baltimore, 1 PM: The first of three matchups? That's the way it seems to go these days. Ben Roethlisberger has owned Joe Flacco, but every game between these two teams is like a battle from Braveheart. Was Baltimore a playoff team last year? Yes. The Steelers knocked them out in the Divisional round. Will the game be nationally televised? CBS will promote this to the max. It will definitely be their marquee 1 pm matchup.

Week 2, 9/18 Seattle 1 PM: This is the cupcake in the first quarter of the schedule. Seattle has to fly across the country and play a 1 pm game which is never good. If I were making this line this morning it would be -9.5. But remember, Seattle did crush New Orleans in the playoffs last year and they do have some offensive weapons. Was Seattle a playoff team late year? Despite finishing 8-8, yes and they beat the defending Super Bowl champions once they got there. Will the game be nationally televised? Fox doesn't get to carry the Steelers often, so it's possible. The Bears play the Saints at 1, so Pittsburgh-Seattle may be #2 on Fox's board.

Week 3, 9/25 @Indianapolis 8:20 PM: Peyton Manning is getting older. While that's a positive it hasn't made any difference so far. I'd much rather get Peyton later in the season when he's been banged around a bit and the Colts have suffered more-than-their-annual-share of crippling injuries. The building, the host stadium for this year's Super Bowl, is also one of the loudest in the League. Even when they aren't piping in the noise. Was Indianapolis a playoff team last year? As always, getting nipped by the Jets in the last play of the game. Will the game be nationally televised? It's the Sunday night game on NBC.

Week 4, 10/2 @ Houston 1:00 PM: Back-to-back AFC South foes. The Texans always seem to be the team that pundits like to pick to make the leap. I had them playing the Steelers in the AFC Championship game last year in my preseason forecast. This is probably the best offensive team the Steelers face in the first four weeks and this year Wade Phillips has been brought in to run the defense. Was Houston a playoff team last year? No, they fell a game short as always. Will the game be nationally televised? Looking at the schedule there is no doubt this one will have CBS's #1 announcing team.

Conclusion: Starting the first four weeks of the season with road games at Baltimore, Indy and Houston is about as tough as it gets. It won't play out this way if some games are actually lost to a lockout, but just cutting the schedule down to 12 games and axing the first four would probably be just fine with the Steelers and their fans.

Being realistic, a 2-2 start would be fine. But just like last year, if Pittsburgh wins the opener a 2-2 start will be a big disappointment. If the Steelers go 3-1, with a division win against Baltimore, Steeler Nation will be aggressively waving their Terrible Towels with visions of another Super Bowl dancing in their heads.


absolute59 said...

David: True. But the last seven games are ridiculously easy.

The Hammer said...

Chiefs and Niners on the road, both at night and four divison games. I'm not sure I'd be penciling in wins in all those games. That sounds like at least one, probably two losses.