Steelers 2013 Schedule Preview: First quarter includes tough match-ups with Bengals, Vikings

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Pittsburgh has a unique set of four games before their bye week. At Cincinnati in primetime and in London against Minnesota are, on paper, their toughest games.

Week 1: Titans at Steelers

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Date: Sunday, Sept. 8

Place: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Titans and Steelers were rivals once. In the same division, even. The Titans were also the Oilers once. Like many of those games, some the battles these teams have undergone in recent years have been epic, physical affairs.

When the Titans chose not to play physical football, though, the Steelers beat the tar out of them.

Tennessee, led by head coach Mike Munchak is going to want to get after Pittsburgh with a physical effort on both sides of the ball, something they appeared unwilling to do much of last season. The make-or-break nature of quarterback Jake Locker's 2013 season starts with one of the toughest defenses he'll face all year. Additions to their offensive line, including No. 10 overall pick Chance Warmack, suggests, like the Steelers, Tennessee will try to run a bit more than they have been - or at the least, more successfully.

This is easily Pittsburgh's best chance of getting a first week victory since 2008 - a streak of four consecutive years against previous season playoff teams in Week 1 comes to an end (Tennessee in 2009, Atlanta in 2010, Baltimore in 2011 and Denver in 2012).

Week 2: Bengals at Steelers

Time: 8:40 p.m. ET

Date: Monday, Sept. 16

Place: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

These AFC North rivals slugged on each other in one of the most impressive defensive performances by both teams in 2013. Cincinnati turned two Ben Roethlisberger turnovers into 10 points, including setting up the game-winning field goal off a late interception.

The first meeting was a dominant Steelers running performance - something they completely failed to do in the re-match. Two very equally matched teams could produce one of the best games in the early part of the NFL season.

Week 3: Bears at Steelers

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Date: Sunday, Sept. 22

Place: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Despite having produced arguably the league's best playmaking defense over the last six years, the Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith and his staff this offseason, bringing in offensive-minded Marc Trestmann, perhaps as a way to reach embattled but talented QB Jay Cutler.

Along with Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, it would seem the Bears would have an offense dynamic enough to produce better results than they have. However, it's not as if Chicago is losing 12 games a year recently. It's the most intriguing match-up of the Steelers' first quarter schedule, and the second consecutive primetime game.

Week 4: Steelers at Vikings

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Date: Sunday, Sept. 29

Place: Wembley Stadium, London

The Vikings are historically linked to the Steelers as one of the other "dynasties" of the 1970s. Since the Steelers' 16-6 victory in Super Bowl IX (in which the Vikings had 117 total yards of offense), Pittsburgh is 5-5 against Minnesota, but the Steelers have won the last three in the series.

The Vikings are a disciplined, well-coached team with more solid players than superstars like running back Adrian Peterson and defensive end Jared Allen. Safety Harrison Smith is a budding star in the league, left tackle Matt Kalil is one of the three best at his position and the Vikings are coming off an impressive 10-6 overachieving season.

Playing the game at Wembley Stadium in London makes for an interesting question of homefield advantage, but given the Steelers' global popularity, the early bet would be on well more than half the crowd waving Terrible Towels. Regardless, though, the Vikings are a well-balanced team and this game could come down to the final drive.

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