It is only May and the Pittsburgh Steelers are still quite some ways away from their 2019 season opener. The draft has come and gone and free agency has died down. The off season is moving, though very slowly. With real football still a few months away, most pundits are spending their time analysing their team’s upcoming schedule and offering possibilities for how their team is going to perform.
The Steelers’ 2019 schedule comes with its own twists and tricks. The two most interesting portions of the schedule come at its beginning and end. The Steelers will open their season in Foxborough and watch the New England Patriots lift their Super Bowl banner. They will then end their season in Baltimore in what very well could be an important matchup with the Ravens. The season finale in Baltimore will conclude a stretch that will see Mike Tomlin’s team play five out of their final seven games on the road. While the back end of the Steelers’ schedule may really determine the resilience of the team, the start of their schedule will determine their character immediately.
While the character and locker room of the 2018 team has been dissected and scrutinized to the smallest detail, this season’s team will have the opportunity to put that all to rest immediately with a matchup against the Patriots in week one. The Steelers have not fared well in New England, with a 1-5 record against the Patriots on the road since Tom Brady has entered the league. The Steelers have never defeated Brady on the road with their lone victory coming in 2008 against Matt Cassel. The average margin of defeat for the Steelers in those five losses is a staggering 17.4 points. With a defense that runs more man coverage than ever before and with the additions of Steven Nelson and Devin Bush, the Steelers will have perhaps their best shot at overcoming Brady and company.
In week two the Steelers will welcome Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks to Heinz Field for the team’s home opener. The Steelers have had a lot of success in home openers over recent years, going 4-1 over their last five home openers. This bodes well when considering that the Seahawks have not had pleasant travels when travelling to Pittsburgh as well. The Seahawks have won just two of their nine games on the road against the Steelers. While the Seahawks have typically struggled historically in Pittsburgh, they did not have Wilson playing quarterback on those occasions. Wilson has only played the Steelers once but it was a performance for the ages. During a 39-30 victory against the Steelers at home in 2015, Wilson threw for 345 yards and a career high five touchdowns. History leans in the Steelers’ favor but with Wilson at the helm, this will be no cake walk.
In week three, the team will make a dreaded trip out to the west coast to take on the San Francisco 49ers. The west coast has not been kind to the Steelers during Tomlin’s tenure and has been a major stain on his record. The Steelers have a 3-11 road record against the 49ers, Seahawks, Chargers, Rams, Raiders, Cardinals and Broncos since Tomlin became head coach in 2007. Seven of those 11 losses were decided by seven or more points.
The Steelers’ start to their 2019 campaign is not going to be easy, if all goes wrong there is a good chance that the team enters week four with an 0-3 record. Being pessimistic is easy though, an optimistic viewpoint of the Steelers 2019 schedule gives the team a defining opportunity to bury all the skeletons in their closet. The biggest knocks on Tomlin’s tenure has been his inability to keep up with the Patriots on the road, his inability to shut down franchise quarterbacks and his inability to win on the west coast.
With a new identity, the 2019 Steelers will have the chance to destroy their three biggest sources of kryptonite right out of the gate.