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Steelers 2012 Schedule Will Include AFC West, NFC East, But Will It Include Europe?

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The Steelers' second-place finish in the AFC North locks in their opponents for the 2012 season.

The schedule, as released, should provide plenty of speculation around the rumor Pittsburgh will play a game in either London or Dublin in 2012.

With Dallas on their schedule, the NFL would drool over the idea of sending its two most popular teams (per a 2011 Harris Poll) to either capture a new market like Dublin (Steelers Chairman Emeritus Dan Rooney is the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland), or continue increasing their presence in London, where the International Series has held its yearly game the last five years.

In 2005, Arizona played San Francisco in Mexico City. An IS game was not held in 2006, and it shifted to London in 2007, when the Dolphins played the Giants (Miami was the home team). In 2008, the Chargers took on the Saints. The Patriots played Tampa Bay in 2009, and San Francisco defeated Denver in 2010. Chicago played Tampa Bay in 2011, giving the Buccaneers two IS games in its history. Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer also owns Manchester United, a soccer club in England.

The issue is, no team will want to give up one of their coveted home games to play overseas. Dallas, with its new stadium, seems the least likely on the schedule to willingly give up a home game. At the very least, the team that's "hosted" each game has had something of an ulterior motive. Tampa Bay with its owner's ties to the area, and sagging ticket sales (and stadium maintenance) in San Diego and San Francisco could be whispered as reasons those teams elected to host a game in London.

At the same time, if the NFL is truly interested in making its brand more marketable overseas, it needs to send its big guns, so to speak. The marketing power of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, combined with Rooney's connection to Dublin, make it an extremely appealing option for the league. Clearly, the Steelers and Cowboys carry a bit of weight and won't just be forced to play an overseas game, but one has to figure the league will involve two of its most popular teams playing at the same time eventually.

Another option would be to host a game in London and a game in Dublin. It wouldn't be out-of-reach to suggest the Chargers host the Steelers in one of those two cities.

It wouldn't be at all surprising to hear today or tomorrow former Steelers coach Bill Cowher named as the new head coach and general manager of the San Diego Chargers. That would make that game very attractive to TV audiences.

Along with the standard home-and-home series with the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers will face the AFC West and the NFC East in 2012. At home, they will face the Denver Broncos (who they will play in the 2011 Wild Card Playoffs), the Kansas City Chiefs, the New York Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.

On the road, they will face the Oakland Raiders, the San Diego Chargers, the Tennessee Titans, the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.

The order in which they play these teams won't be determined until after the start of the league's 2012 season, which is in the spring. The Steelers' second place finish in the AFC North earned them a "second place schedule," which means they play the second place finishing teams from the two AFC divisions they are not scheduled to play in 2012. In this case, it's the AFC South (Tennessee) and the AFC East (the Jets).

The inclusion of two West Coast games (Oakland and San Diego) is probably the most detrimental aspect of this schedule. teams travel from the Eastern Time Zone to the Pacific Time Zone (and vice versa) do not typically fare well. It's also tough on teams playing these games in a prime time slot. Pittsburgh played at San Francisco on Monday Night in 2011, only to return to Pittsburgh to face St. Louis on Saturday in Week 16.