The NFL is still abuzz with the release of its 2014 schedule. Previously, we broke down the twists, turns and quirks of the Pittsburgh Steelers slate.
This time, we’ll play the good ‘ol win-loss-loss-win-loss-win-win game. This is just a first-blush look at how the Steelers will do based on what we know now. We’ll do this again just before the season starts after the draft and training camp alter the equation.
There are a few other interesting nooks and crannies in the Steelers schedule that we’ll point out, because the NFL schedule is the gift that keeps on giving.
Week 1: Cleveland (Sept. 7, 1 p.m.)
Imagine Johnny Manziel making his NFL debut at Heinz Field. Even if it’s not Manziel, the Browns probably will draft a quarterback somewhere. So there’s a good chance a rookie quarterback will be baptized in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 17-2 against rookie signal callers since Dick LeBeau became their offensive coordinator in 2004.
W, 23-9 (1-0)
Week 2: At Baltimore (Sept. 11, 8:25 p.m.)
The Steelers play at Baltimore on a Thursday night for the second straight year. This will be the 13th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the third anniversary of the Ravens’ 35-7 manhandling of the Steelers in the 2011 season opener. Since then, four straight Steelers-Ravens games were decided by three points, then the Steelers lost by two at Baltimore last year. Mike Tomlin will keep his foot out of the way this year, but the Steelers won’t win.
L, 17-16 (1-1)
Week 3: At Carolina (Sept. 21, 8:30 p.m.)
The Panthers’ defense was second only to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Seahawks last season. The Steelers got a piece of that defense by signing free agent safety Mike Mitchell. But the Panthers took Jerricho Cotchery, the best red-zone weapon from a Steelers offense that was on the upswing at the end of last season.
L, 26-23 (1-2)
Week 4: Tampa Bay (Sept. 28, 1 p.m.)
This game won’t be as easy as it looks now. The Buccaneers went 4-12 last season but hired Lovie Smith as head coach and signed cornerback Alterraun Verner and defensive end Michael Johnson in free agency. They’ll have 10 days to prepare for this game because they play on Thursday night in Week 3. Regardless, after a 1-2 start this is a game the Steelers have to win. Then again, after starting last season 0-4, bouncing back from 1-3 would be a piece of cake.
W, 27-16 (2-2)
Week 5: At Jacksonville (Oct. 5, 1 p.m.)
This is the second of three straight games against teams that finished 4-12 last season. The Jaguars beefed up their defensive line with Chris Clemons and Red Bryant. And they can have Ziggy Hood. Under center for the Jaguars will be either Chad Henne or a rookie.
W, 30-13 (3-2)
Week 6: At Cleveland (Oct. 12, 1 p.m.)
Considering the disappointment of the last two seasons, we can’t look at this Jacksonville-Cleveland road swing and put automatic “W”s next to these games. One of the Steelers’ two losses to a rookie quarterback since 2004 came at Cleveland two years ago. As humiliating as any loss in Cleveland is, the Steelers are still a game better than they were in 2013 according to this prognostication.
L, 21-14 (3-3)
Week 7: Houston (Oct. 20, 8:30 p.m.)
The Steelers get a reprieve from all those 4-12 teams and play a team that finished 2-14 in 2013. Unfortunately, the Steelers face another team coming off a week and a half of rest. Houston hosts Indianapolis on Thursday night in Week 6. If the Texans keep the No. 1 draft pick, Jadeveon Clowney could test Mike Munchak’s offensive line on Monday Night Football.
W, 23-17 (4-3)
Week 8: Indianapolis (Oct. 26, 4:25 p.m.)
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Steelers face a rookie quarterback five times in the first seven weeks of the season. Their luck will run out when Andrew Luck comes to town and bests the Steelers defense, even if it starts to improve in 2014.
L, 31-21 (4-4)
Week 9: Baltimore (Nov. 2, 8:30 p.m.)
The Steelers will have been home for three weeks at this point. The Ravens will be coming off a trip to Cincinnati. Unlike last year, it will be advantage Steelers in terms of the schedule heading into their second meeting with the Ravens. This margin of victory will seem comfortable for a Ravens-Steelers game.
W, 19-14 (5-4)
Week 10: At New York Jets (Nov. 9, 1 p.m.)
A lot of pundits had the Jets going 4-12 or 3-13 last year, but somehow they went 8-8. Now they’ve added Chris Johnson and Eric Decker. As long as a Geno Smith-Michael Vick quarterback controversy doesn’t sabotage their season, look for big things from the Jets in 2014.
L, 20-7 (5-5)
Week 11: At Tennessee (Nov. 17, 8:30 p.m.)
The Steelers play the team that signed Chris Johnson, then the team that released him. The Steelers are snake-bitten in Tennessee to begin with. Now they’ll go up against new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who always has extra motivation to beat the Steelers after getting passed over for their head coaching job in 2007 and losing to them in the Super Bowl two years later. On the other sideline, Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak was fired as head coach after 31 years of service with the organization. Lots of story lines for this Monday nighter.
L, 24-21 (5-6)
Week 12: Bye
Week 13: New Orleans (Nov. 30, 1 p.m.)
Todd Haley’s offense gained steam late last season. The Steelers finished the year by scoring 20 or more points in nine straight games for the first time since 2002. They might have to double that amount to beat Drew Brees and the Saints. New Orleans will be coming off a Monday-night game at home against the Ravens. The Steelers will be rested after their bye and fighting for their playoff lives. The last time the Saints came to Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger out-dueled Drew Brees 38-31. Of course that has no bearing on what will happen this year, but the memory creates a little buzz.
W, 41-39 (6-6)
Week 14: At Cincinnati (Dec. 7, 1 p.m.)
This is a make-or-break year for Andy Dalton, who hasn’t taken the Bengals past the wild-card round of the playoffs. But at least the Bengals have been in the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. Ben Roethlisberger has never taken the Steelers to the playoffs in three straight seasons.
L, 13-6 (6-7)
Week 15: At Atlanta (Dec. 14, 1 p.m.)
It looks like one way or another the Steelers will have to deal with Jadeveon Clowney in 2014. The hot rumor, according to Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports, has the Falcons trading with the Texans for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
There are no shortage of execs in the league who believe the Texans best odds of trading out of 1st overall is w/ Atlanta to get Clowney
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 24, 2014
For the second time in three weeks, the Steelers get an opponent coming off a Monday-night game. The Rooneys really must have given the league an earful about last year’s schedule. The Steelers play the Falcons once every four years. They’re not familiar enough with them to breed the kind of contempt they have for those birds who dwell in the AFC North. However, like those Steelers-Ravens clashes, these quadrennial Steelers-Falcons games always are decided by razor-thin margins. The last three times the Steelers and Falcons have met, they’ve gone into overtime. They tied 34-34 in 2002 at Heinz Field, the last time the Steelers were involved in a tie. The Falcons beat the Steelers 34-31 at Atlanta in 2006 and the Steelers opened the 2010 season with a 15-9 win over the Falcons in Pittsburgh. So why not another OT game?
W, 27-24, OT (7-7)
Week 16: Kansas City (Dec. 21, 1 p.m.)
Unlike last year, it won’t require a trigonometry degree at this point in the season to figure out how the Steelers can get into the playoffs. They’ll be in the thick of the playoff picture at 7-7.
The Steelers allowed 4.3 yards per carry last season, 21st in the NFL. Not since 1999 had the Steelers defense been so leaky against the run. They’ll have 14 games to get that fixed before Jamaal Charles comes to Pittsburgh. The guy who was still on the board when the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed in 2008 was third in the NFL with 1,287 yards in 2013 and tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. Charles averaged five yards a carry.
While we’re talking about running backs, here’s an optimistic way of looking at Le’Veon Bell’s rookie year. Charles and Chris Johnson are the only running backs the Steelers will face in 2014 who ran for more than Bell’s 860 yards last year. Bell out-shined fellow rookie Eddie Lacy when the Steelers went to Green Bay 364 days before this game. If he comes close to getting equal billing with Charles leading up to this game, then he’ll have made a lot of progress in his sophomore season.
This game will take place exactly 28 years after the Chiefs’ last win in Pittsburgh.
W, 37-23 (8-7)
Week 17: Cincinnati (Dec. 28, 1 p.m.)
For the fifth straight season, the Bengals come to Pittsburgh in December. Since the AFC North was formed in 2002, the Steelers have split their games against each of their three division opponents only twice. It happened in 2003 and 2012, both non-playoff seasons. They’ve never won all three home games and lost all three road games in the division during that time. In this prediction scenario, it will happen this year. That doesn’t bode well for their playoff chances. They’re never gone 3-3 in the AFC North and made the playoffs, but a 9-7 overall record could get them in. It will at least be a baby step forward after two straight 8-8 seasons.
W, 14-13 (9-7)