As we gear up for the NFL season that awaits, one thing we already know about this season’s Steelers is the .512 winning percentage of their opponents, based on last season’s records, which ties them for the twelfth-most difficult. The first half is a doozy, featuring games against the Bengals, Patriots, Bills, Bucs and Eagles, the latter of which being a road game, and Philly being a place Pittsburgh hasn’t won since 1965.
The second half of the schedule is less daunting, featuring several games against non-playoff qualifiers from last year. One major caveat to the schedule as well is the fact that the team doesn’t have to leave the Eastern Time Zone, which as we all know, can be a major adjustment issue for many teams.
Mike Sando of The Athletic recently put his own spin on the upcoming season’s schedule, and decided to rank each team’s level of difficulty, based on the opposing quarterbacks, using his own QB Tiers rankings. To no surprise, he has guys like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert as Tier 1 players. In this exercise, the Chiefs have the toughest schedule, but Pittsburgh doesn’t come in much better, ranking sixth. This exercise even takes into consideration the Deshaun Watson situation in Cleveland, and if we add him in, Pittsburgh moves up several notches into the third-most difficult. However, since at this stage it’s an absolute wild card, he leaves Watson and Cleveland out of the equation altogether.
“There’s volatility built into the Steelers’ schedule pending resolution of Watson’s situation, but it’s a top-10 schedule regardless,” Sando writes. “The AFC North is matched with the AFC East, which mean’s facing Buffalo’s Allen, and also with the NFC South, which brings the Buccaneers’ Brady.”
This is also considering the fact that the team will obviously have their home and away games against the likes of Burrow, a trendy MVP candidate, and also Baltimore’s elusive Lamar Jackson, who Sando ranks as a Tier 2 QB. Derek Carr is another Tier 2 selection who’s perhaps primed for a monster year, as the front office swung for the fences in trading for superstar wide receiver Davante Adams, Carr’s favorite college target.
With Pro Bowler Darren Waller and the sure-handed Hunter Renfrow operating out of the slot, coupled with the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Immaculate Reception, you can be sure this Christmas Eve game is one the players have circled on their calendar.
An interesting tidbit in all this is how Sando ranks Watson, as he qualifies him as a Tier 3, along with another player by the name of Baker Mayfield, the man he was brought in to replace. When Sando inputs journeyman Jacoby Brissett as the starting QB for the Browns, a definite season-long possibility, that slides Pittsburgh’s rank down to ninth.
In any event, it does look a bit intimidating on paper, and Pittsburgh is expected to be in many dogfight-type of games. However the Chiefs have the worst of it, as they face 12 QB’s that are either in Tiers 1 or 2.