Steelers should take advantage of favorable early season schedule

Gregory Shamus

The Steelers started 0-4 last year. That shouldn't be the case again after looking at the early slate of games in 2014.

Last season ended with a bang for the Steelers.

The start of 2014 should follow suit.

Winners of their last three games to finish a mere field goal try of the post season, the Steelers should be able to parlay that success with more victories to begin 2014.

The Steelers play just two teams that recorded winning records last year in the first nine weeks. They'll face the Browns, a team the Steelers are 26-5 against since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, twice in the first six weeks. In a four-week span (games four-seven), the Steelers play teams (Tampa Bay, at Jacksonville, at Cleveland, Houston) that finished 2013 with a combined 14-50 record. Sounds like a recipe for success.

Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't any potential road blocks in the first half of the schedule. A 3-5 team away from Heinz Field a year ago, the Steelers will play four of their first six games on the road in 2014. After hosting the Browns in Week One, the Steelers will have just three full days off before heading to Baltimore for a Thursday Night Football match up with the Ravens. I'm sure you recall the bloodbath between the teams when the squads last faced in Baltimore on a Thursday night when the Ravens won a thriller last Thanksgiving. The Steelers will then get nine full days off before facing the Panthers in Charlotte for a Sunday Night Football match up. A 12-4 outfit a year ago, it will be Pittsburgh's first game against a team that compiled a winning record in 2013.

After spending most of the first six games on the road, the schedule makers awarded the Steelers with three consecutive home games in weeks seven-nine. All three games will be nationally televised events, with the Texans game airing on Monday Night Football before hosting the Colts for a 4:25 Sunday kickoff and an 8:30 date with the Ravens the following week on Sunday Night Football. The Colts, who finished 11-5 and won a playoff game in 2013, are the second team the Steelers will face with a winning record in '13 in the first nine games of 2014. Both the Panthers and Colts have young quarterbacks in Can Newton and Andrew Luck, who have never faced the Steel Curtain. Rest assured that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will unleash an onslaught of exotic blitz packages on both passers.

While the talent the Steelers will face early on is not the stingiest, the NFL has become a league of parity; the Eagles won their division in '13 after finishing last in the NFC East in '12 while the Falcons went 4-12 in '13 after winning 13 and the NFC South the year before. Given this new norm in the NFL, the Steelers can't take any teams-regardless of their record-lightly.

Given the Steelers 0-4 start and their frantic finish of 2013, the Steelers should be motivated to get 2014 off on a strong note. They'll have the schedule to do just that, as long as the team is ready to embark on another championship chase.

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