On their 2015 schedule, there are no cupcake games, no “gimmes” as were served up last year for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and maybe that’s a good thing. Playing the lowly AFC South, where the Colts were the division winners, and the second-place team was Houston, who was quarterbacked by the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage, the Steelers went 4-0. To throw some salt on the wound however, were their results versus the even more abysmal NFC South, which the Carolina Panthers won with a 7-8-1 record. The Panthers were actually one of the two teams from the division that Pittsburgh actually managed to beat.
The other two games were losses, both at home, to the Saints and the Bucs, who at 2-14, held the first overall pick in the 2015 draft for those of you sleeping on NFL news this time of year. The Steelers lost a few other “cupcake” games to the Jets and Browns, which looking back, could’ve made the difference between an extra bye week to rest, or playing the Ravens in the Wild Card round. Peeking into the crystal ball for 2015, there exist no such games, as each and every week the team will be in for a test, even in week 9 versus the lowly Oakland Raiders. Any fan of the team will tell you the last several bouts playing Oakland have been nothing short of a house of horrors for the team.
Often regarded as the best division in football, the AFC North slate and it’s 6 games are tough enough amongst themselves. The Bengals and Ravens certainly need no introductions, as each has won the division title in recent memory. Even the Browns, led under defensive-minded head coach Mike Pettine, can no longer be considered a doormat, led by their two-headed rushing attack of Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. Couple that with a defense that, on paper, looks scary with the additions of rookies Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper to their 3-4 defensive front.
In non-division play, the team faces the likes of the AFC and NFC West, with the latter perhaps considered the “1B” when it comes to the toughest divisions in the NFL. Although the 49ers lost several pillars of their defense, the team still possesses quality playmakers, and we’ve all seen how scrambling quarterbacks can have their way with the Pittsburgh defense before. If we can pull one good thing out of the trip up to Seattle, it’s that it comes after the bye week, and the entire defense better bring their big boy shoulder pads when dealing with power back, Marshawn Lynch. Add to that their new added offensive dimension in the form of 6-foot-7, 265-pound matchup nightmare in tight end Jimmy Graham and Pittsburgh’s defense could be in for a long day if they’re lulled to sleep by the long flight across the country.
The homecoming of Arizona’s Bruce Arians to Pittsburgh on October 18 will take some of the luster off of what should be a very physical game, but the one game that is key is in week 3 at St. Louis. With the way this defensive line can create pressure with their front four alone should have each and every offensive lineman on Pittsburgh’s roster with their head on a swivel. if something happens to Ben Roethlisberger that early in the season, then a Le’Veon Bell suspension will be the least of the team’s worries.
The AFC West is no slouch either, with some of the game’s top quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers on the slate. The Broncos may be more reliant on a punishing ground game now led by C.J. Anderson, but one can never sleep on the right arm of Manning. The Chargers may be a bit more challenging than in season’s past as well, thanks to the addition of dynamic rookie running back Melvin Gordon.
Basically, you get the point by now in that there are no “bye” weeks other than the week 11 one. Each and every team on the 2015 schedule will bring out the best in Pittsburgh, and perhaps that’s what this team needs for it to rise to the occasion. It seems to have a history of playing up or down to it’s competition. Last year’s bout versus Indianapolis was no different, as the offense was a fine tuned machine, as Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards for the second time in his career, the only QB in history with multiple 500+ yard games. They may need more of the same out of him in 2015, as each and every week will be a scrap.