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2018 Steelers mock schedule

The NFL has turned its annual schedule release into yet another offseason event that steals headlines from sports that are actually playing regular-season and playoff games.

According to Pro Football Talk, the 2018 NFL schedule is expected to be released sometime this week. Even if it’s not released this week, it almost surely will be before the draft begins on April 26. The league has turned the unveiling of the schedule into a prime time event as sort of a draft appetizer.

We already know the Steelers’ 2018 home and road opponents. As always, they’ll play each of their AFC North rivals at home and on the road. They’ll also face every team in the AFC West and NFC South and also the AFC East and AFC South first-place teams.

In a few days we’ll finally know where these games land between September and December. So let’s try to do the work of hundreds of computers in the league offices and take a crack at predicting the Steelers’ 2018 schedule.

Week 1

Sept. 10: Kansas City (Monday), 7 p.m.

The Steelers have opened the last three seasons on the road. The last time they opened four consecutive seasons on the road was 1960-1963. It wouldn’t be surprising if they lobbied for a Week 1 home game in 2018. The problem is the Pirates are home on Sept. 9. They hit the road the next day, however, which opens up Monday night.

The NFL has had a Week 1 Monday Night Football doubleheader every year since 2006. This would be the 7 p.m. game. Patrick Mahomes will make his second career start, but his first in a meaningful game as the Steelers and Chiefs square off for the fifth straight year. They played each other six straight seasons between 1984 and 1989.

Week 2

Sept. 16: at Jacksonville, 8 p.m.

The Jaguars were left off the NFL’s prime time schedule for the first time in their history last season, but after their run to the AFC title game they return to the big stage against the Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The Steelers have started the last two seasons 2-0. They haven’t started three straight seasons with a 2-0 record since 1978-1980. Starting the 2018 season 2-0 won’t be easy against two of last year’s AFC playoff teams.

Week 3

Sept. 23: at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

For the second straight week, the Steelers will have a chance to improve their all-time regular-season record against an opponent to .500. They slipped to 11-12 against the Jaguars last year and are 7-8 against the Saints. In this scenario, the teams will meet in September for the first time.

Week 4

Sept. 30: Atlanta, 1 p.m.

According to CBSSports.com, the Steelers’ strength of schedule is tied for 25th in the league. But it sure doesn’t seem like it in this mock schedule with the Steelers facing four 2017 playoff teams in September.

Week 5

Oct. 7: at Oakland, 4 p.m.

Jon Gruden is 0-4 in his coaching career against the Steelers. Mike Tomlin, however, is 0-2 in his career at Oakland. The last two Steelers teams to win at Oakland were the 1995 and 1974 teams. Both went to the Super Bowl.

Week 6

Oct. 14: Cincinnati, 4 p.m.

Vontaze Burfict will be back in time for this game after serving his four-game PED suspension. If this mock schedule comes true, it would be the first time since 2012 that the Steelers don’t play any AFC North opponents in the first five weeks of the season. This would be the first of three straight division games surrounding a bye.

Week 7

Bye

Week 8

Oct. 28: Baltimore, 1 p.m.

The Steelers face their third straight opponent that didn’t make the 2017 playoffs, but who are we kidding? It’s the Ravens. In this imaginary schedule, the Steelers better rest up during their bye week.

Week 9

Nov. 1: at Cleveland (Thursday), 8 p.m.

The Steelers would have just three days to heal up from all the bumps and bruises that come with playing the Ravens. You heard it here first. The Steelers and Browns wear color rush jerseys on Thursday Night Football, with the Steelers in all black and the Browns in all orange the night after Halloween. Do it!

Week 10

Nov. 11: at Denver, 4 p.m.

About a week or so after the actual 2018 schedule comes out, we’ll know which teams draft Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph. In this spot, it’s quite possible the Steelers visit two of those rookie quarterbacks in consecutive weeks.

Week 11

Nov. 18: Patriots, 8 p.m.

The Steelers’ rematch against the Patriots comes 10 months later than they thought it would, and NBC gets it on Sunday Night Football. It would be nice if the Steelers could refrain from referring to this game as “Round One.”

Week 12

Nov. 25: at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

The Steelers are 8-2 all-time against the Buccaneers. But both of those losses have been infamous. In 1998, Kordell Stewart cried on the sidelines when he was benched during a 13-3 loss at Tampa Bay. In 2014, Mike Glennon led the winless Bucs to a last-second victory at Heinz Field. Of course, the Buccaneers never beat the Steelers in their old Bucco Bruce creamsicle uniforms. Did someone say throwback jerseys?

Week 13

Dec. 2: at Carolina, 1 p.m.

Perhaps the Steelers stay in the South between these games to cut down on travel fatigue. It would be a nice reprieve after a brutal four-week stretch that includes their obligatory Monday-Thursday turnaround, a game in Denver’s high altitude and a showdown against the Patriots.

Week 14

Dec. 9: Cleveland, 1 p.m.

If the Steelers’ schedule actually pans out like this, their defense could face Jameis Winston (the 2015 top overall draft pick) followed by Cam Newton (the 2011 top overall draft pick) and then whoever ends up being the 2018 top overall draft pick. In a six-week span, they could encounter five quarterbacks drafted in the top five and Tom Brady.

Week 15

Dec. 16: at Baltimore, 8 p.m.

And that aforementioned six-week stretch would be bookended by games against the Steelers’ most familiar rival. This would be the Steelers’ first prime time game at Baltimore since 2014, and their first Sunday Night Football game there since 2010. This would be the Steelers’ fifth prime time game, with the possibility of a sixth being flexed.

Week 16

Dec. 23: Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

This is another place where the Steelers’ schedule could be tougher than it looks. The Chargers missed the playoffs last season, but won six of their last seven.

Week 17

Dec. 30: at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Since divisional games for Week 17 were mandated in 2010, the Steelers have closed against the Browns seven times, hosting them four times including 2016 and 2017. The only exception came in 2014, when they hosted the Bengals in Week 17. The Steelers probably never host the Ravens in Week 17 because the networks fear that one of their most prized matchups turns out to have no playoff implications. The Steelers have won a December game at Cincinnati each of the last four seasons. So why not play there in Week 17? Maybe the Bengals will rest Burfict.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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