Strength of schedule talk should always be taken with a healthy serving of salt. Especially when we are talking about strength of schedule in April. Because the pre-season strength of schedule is determined based on the winning percentage of the opponents a team will face from their prior season, it only goes so far in predicting how strong an opponent they will be in the upcoming year.
We already knew what the Pittsburgh Steelers’ strength of schedule was as soon as the regular season ended, because we knew by then not only every team they would face but also what their end-of-season record would be. They tied for the fifth-easiest strength of schedule in the league, overall, their slated opponents having recorded a winning percentage of just .477 last season.
It helps when you play in a division with a team that went 0-16, of course.
But now that the schedule is out and we know which games come at what point in the season, we can make more determinations about how the year will flow. According to reports, the Steelers are tied for the easiest strength of schedule over the first eight games, those opponents accounting for a winning percentage of just .391.
Among those games as I discussed yesterday are five division games, including the Cleveland Browns twice, who went 0-16. Those two games against the Browns alone mean that the maximum winning percentage they could possibly face in the first eight is .750.
Two games come against the Baltimore Ravens, who finished 9-7 with a .563 winning percentage. Another division game against the Cincinnati Bengals is mixed in. They finished the year 7-9, producing a winning percentage of .438.
The other three opponents during that run are the Kansas City Chiefs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Atlanta Falcons. The Chiefs and the Falcons both finished 10-6, but the Buccaneers finished 5-10. In all, they face four teams who had winning records last season and four with losing records.
On the flip side, the Steelers also have the toughest strength of schedule for the second half of the season, which includes five games against teams who went to the postseason a year ago, four of them division-winners. That includes the two teams that beat them in three of their four losses, the 13-3 New England Patriots and the 10-6 Jacksonville Jaguars.
They also face the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers in the second half of the year, both of whom finished last season 11-5. Rounding things out are the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders, and another game against the Bengals. Six of the eight games come against teams who had winning records.
How much will this mean by the time the games are actually played? That’s impossible to know. I will say that all three of the teams I mentioned last, at least on paper, should be better than they were a year ago. But we have no idea what they will look like on the week that they play the Steelers.