There’s no question the Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the NFL’s most daunting schedules in 2021. Statistically, it’s the toughest strength of schedule in football. Partially because of the competitive AFC North they play in, partially because the NFC North is competitive, and partially because their other games aren’t cakewalks, either. Playing Buffalo, Kansas City, you know the story.
One thing they do have going for them is a lack of travel around the country. Per ESPN analytics and shared by Brian Burke, the Steelers have the eighth-fewest net travel miles this season.
The Steelers have roughly -4000 net travel miles this season. One reason why that number is among the lowest in the NFL is the team’s three instances of back-to-back home games. They’ll stay at Heinz Field for Weeks 2-3, 5-6, and 9-10. Lots of home cookin’ early in the season, and it also gives the team a net travel of “zero” for the week.
Pittsburgh also doesn’t have many extended road trips. Only once this season does the team have back-to-back games on the road, Weeks 11-12. That trek is a bit of a doozy, heading out west to play the Chargers on Sunday night and then going to Cincinnati the following weekend. Not ideal. But it’s the only difficult travel of the schedule, though their Thursday night contest against Minnesota is on the road. Short week and a travel day compounds the headache of a week like that.
Still, from that narrow lens, the schedule broke favorably for Pittsburgh. They’ve had a string of good luck of close travel in recent seasons. It helps their divisional games are among the closest in football. They don’t even need to charter a plane to go to Cleveland. It’s not like playing in the AFC East where northeast teams have to travel to Miami or the AFC South where Houston has to go to Indianapolis and vice versa. That keeps the miles and jet lag to a minimum.
And of course, it’s about the only positive of the otherwise tough schedule. One that begins out of the gate with a Week 1 road game against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have beaten the Steelers each of the past two seasons. And if you look at the rest of the list, the Ravens and Bengals each have even fewer net travel miles than the Steelers. The Browns are also just one spot below Pittsburgh, so the Steelers lack any sort of in-division advantage.
Chicago leads the entire league with the fewest, while the San Francisco 49ers will be collecting their airline miles in 2021, amassing nearly 8000.