The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: What are the pros and cons of playing a backloaded schedule in terms of AFC North opponents?
The NFL made it a big deal, as they always do, to release the official schedules of all 32 teams last night, with, of course, the Steelers’ schedule among them. Many points stick out about how the schedule is structured in terms of whom they play and when, but one thing in particular that is notable is how the AFC North shakes out for Pittsburgh.
The Steelers will take their bye week during Week Eight, meaning that they will have nine games to play after their week off. A full five of those games, more than half, will come against divisional opponents, beginning immediately with a Week Nine game against the Ravens
In addition to playing the Browns just two weeks later, the Steelers end the season with three straight divisional games against each of their division rivals, with the Bengals, then Ravens, and then the Browns to close out the regular season.
It goes without saying that this provides the Steelers with a great opportunity to rack up a ton of divisional wins beyond (or rather, near) the halfway point of the season, during which they tend to be in the prime of their abilities.
It’s worth pointing out that, injuries aside, the offense played some of its best football during this stretch of the season a year ago, racking up a series of games in which the team posted 30 or more points to establish a new franchise record for consecutive games.
It also helps that the scheduled matchups in between on that end of the schedule don’t look overly daunting, with two games against the NFC in the Cowboys and the Giants, in addition to a contest with the Bills. The November game against the Colts figures to be a challenge, but the team has beaten them in each of the past two years.
In general, in recent years the Steelers have done very well against divisional opponents late in the season, with the baffling blip against the Ravens late last season notwithstanding. The team scored three divisional wins from Week 10 and beyond. They also scored two critical late-season victories over the Bengals in 2014 to secure the division.