The NFL sent out 256 save-the-date cards Wednesday night by unveiling its 2014 schedule.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have known their 2014 home and away opponents since Dec. 29, when the Kansas City Chiefs’ scrubs came oh-so-close to winning at San Diego and putting the Steelers in the playoffs.
Now that we have dates and times to go with the Steelers’ opponents, the anticipation for the 2014 season gains steam.
Here are some observations about how the Steelers’ 2014 games are arranged.
The Steelers Might Actually Win Their Opener
No one needs to be reminded that the Steelers started the 2013 season 0-4. But an 0-1 start would be just as bad in 2014. Why? Because the Steelers open at home against the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers haven’t lost to the Browns at home since 2003, when they went 6-10. Ben Roethlisberger has never lost to the Browns at home.
This is a shining opportunity for the Steelers to win their first season opener since 2010. If they lose at home to the Browns, we’ll know right away that it’ll be a long season.
The Short Week Is Easier
For the second year in a row, the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in a five-day span.
Last year, both of those games were on the road. Every team plays at least one Thursday game and has to deal with the short week that comes with it. But the Steelers were the only team last season that had to go on the road on a Sunday and again the following Thursday, and they looked sluggish in their 22-20 loss at Baltimore on Thanksgiving.
With only three days to prepare for a Thursday game, every second in precious. This year, instead of traveling home from Cleveland, the Steelers can start game planning for the Ravens right after playing the Browns at Heinz Field.
September Not Prime Time for Steelers in Baltimore
The good news is the Steelers’ short week should be easier when they go to Baltimore for the inaugural CBS Thursday Night Football telecast. The bad news is that the earlier in the season the Steelers play at Baltimore, the worse they do.
When they play there in December, they win. When they play there in late November, they almost win. When they play there in September, they get blown out.
Since 2008, the Steelers are 3-3 at Baltimore. All of those wins have come in December. They’ve played two late-November games at Baltimore during that time, losing 20-17 in overtime in 2009 and 22-20 in last year’s Footgate game. When they opened the season at Baltimore in 2011, they lost 35-7.
This also will be the second time in four years the Steelers play at Baltimore on the anniversary of Sept. 11.
Prime-Time Matchup Comes Early for Steelers and Panthers
The Steelers have played the Carolina Panthers six times since the Panthers joined the NFL in 1995. All six of those games have come in December. This year, the Steelers go to Carolina in Week 3 on Sept. 21.
Ten days after playing at Baltimore, the Steelers play their second straight prime-time game, and it’s an intriguing Sunday Night Football matchup. The Steelers and Panthers have been linked throughout the offseason. The Steelers signed safety Mike Mitchell as a free agent from the Panthers, and the Panthers signed Jerricho Cotchery from the Steelers.
The Panthers are coming off a 12-4 season, and Cam Newton might be more dangerous on his feet after having his ankle repaired. Carolina was 7-1 at home in the 2013 regular season, losing only to the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Panthers at Carolina in the NFC divisional playoffs. So the only teams to win at Carolina last year were the Super Bowl champions and arguably the league’s next best team.
Even though the games are 10 days apart, going to Baltimore and Carolina in consecutive weeks will be no easy task for the Steelers. It makes taking care of business against the Browns in Week 1 that much more important.
On the Road Again
After going to Baltimore and Carolina, the Steelers get what appears on paper to be a respite when they come home and play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs are coming off a 4-12 season and have never won in Pittsburgh. They’ve beaten the Steelers just once in nine games since they introduced Bucco Bruce and creamsicle uniforms to the NFL in 1976.
The Steelers hit the road again in weeks 5 and 6, going to Jacksonville and Cleveland. This three-game stretch might look easy in April, but in the parity-driven NFL chances are at least one of those teams will improve in 2014.
Four of the Steelers’ first six games are on the road. They were 2-4 through six games last year. They have some work to do to improve on that in 2014.
A Special Guest in Pittsburgh?
The Steelers will have their first three-game homestand since 2010. They play the Houston Texans at home on Monday night in Week 7. Then they host the Indianapolis Colts in Week 8 and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football in Week 9.
As nice as it will be for the Steelers to have three straight home games in the middle of the season, the games figure to get progressively tougher.
The Texans were 2-14 last season, but could bring Jadeveon Clowney or Johnny Manziel to Heinz Field if they hold on to the No. 1 draft pick.
Next up is Andrew Luck, who’s led the Colts to two straight playoff seasons.
Then it’s the Ravens, who have won three of their last four regular-season games in Pittsburgh.
The 2010 Steelers, who went to the Super Bowl, couldn’t even go 3-0 in their three-game homestand. A loss could be lurking in one of these games, but if the Steelers are going to be a playoff team, they should be able to win two of the three.
A Late Bye Week
If the Steelers start the season 0-4 again, they won’t have a bye week to regroup. They have the latest possible bye in Week 12, but it still will come at a welcome time because it’s preceded by road games at the New York Jets and Tennessee.
After overachieving last year and going 8-8, the Jets added Chris Johnson and Eric Decker. Their arrow is pointing up.
In Week 11, Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak will oppose the Tennessee Titans for the first time after working for the franchise for 31 years. Before he was head coach of the Titans from 2011-2013, Munchak was a Hall of Fame guard for the Houston Oilers from 1982 to 1993. Then he became an offensive assistant/quality control coach for three years before being promoted to offensive line coach, a position he held from 1997 (when the Oilers moved to Tennessee) until 2010.
This will be the Steelers’ second straight prime-time trip to Tennessee. They lost to Munchak’s Titans on a Thursday night in 2012. The Steelers are 2-9 all-time at Tennessee, with some infamy along the way. In 2002, they lost a controversial 34-31 overtime game at Tennessee in the AFC divisional playoffs. Titans kicker Joe Nedney got a second chance to kick the game-winning field goal after the Steelers were called for roughing the kicker, and Nedney said after the game that maybe he should pursue an acting career.
In a regular-season loss at Tennessee that year, Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox was carted off on a stretcher (he turned out to be OK) and a Titans assistant coach furtively threw a cup of coffee on Joey Porter on the sideline.
This will be a brutal two-game road swing for the Steelers. Splitting these games would be nice.
After the bye week, four of the Steelers’ last five games are against
2014 2013 playoff teams.
They face the New Orleans Saints at Heinz Field in Week 13 for a 1 p.m. game. Somehow that doesn’t look right. This game is a flex possibility. The last time the Steelers played the Saints, it was on Sunday Night Football in New Orleans on Halloween in 2010. The time before that, the Steelers won an epic shootout 38-31 at Heinz Field. Don’t be surprised if this Ben Roethlisberger-Drew Brees showdown at least gets moved to 4:25 p.m.
The Saints figure to be a tall order, and it won’t get any easier when the Steelers travel to Cincinnati in Week 14 and Atlanta in Week 15.
The Steelers close out the regular season with home games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Bengals, both teams looking to improve on last year’s wild-card playoff exits.
For the first time since the Bengals entered the NFL in 1970, the Steelers and Bengals will play both of their games in December. The Steelers haven’t been swept by the Bengals since 2009. It can’t happen this year. It’s hard to see them losing to the Bengals twice in December and making the playoffs.
|PITTSBURGH STEELERS 2014 SCHEDULE|
|Week 1||Cleveland||Sept 7||1 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 2||At Baltimore||Sept 11||8:25 p.m.||CBS/NFL Network|
|Week 3||At Carolina||Sept 21||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Week 4||Tampa Bay||Sept 28||1 p.m.||FOX|
|Week 5||At Jacksonville||Oct 05||1 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 6||At Cleveland||Oct 12||1 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 7||Houston||Oct 20||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 8||Indianapolis||Oct 26||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 9||Baltimore||Nov 02||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Week 10||At New York Jets||Nov 09||1 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 11||At Tennessee||Nov 17||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Week 13||New Orleans||Nov 30||1 p.m.||FOX|
|Week 14||At Cincinnati||Dec 07||1 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 15||At Atlanta||Dec 14||1 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 16||Kansas City||Dec 21||1 p.m.||CBS|
|Week 17||Cincinnati||Dec 28||1 p.m.||CBS|