The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers are doing their best to create the image they are not the typical Steelers team. Several big “personalities” are no longer in the locker room and camaraderie seems to be the point of emphasis. Analysts are doubting them, and the team wants nothing more than to fly under the radar.
But if this team isn’t wanting to be the typical Steelers team, then are there things we fans associate with the Steelers which would not be safe to assume in 2019? Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we will look at several Steeler trends from recent years, both positive and negative, and see if the expectations should change based on evolving attitudes and philosophies.
Most Steelers fans know that when the lights come on, the Steelers pick their game up a notch. And being one of the top national brands in the NFL, the Steelers usually get the maximum allotted five primetime games each season. Not only do the Steelers playa lot in primetime, they wina lot in primetime. Over the last three regular seasons, the Steelers are 10-2 (.833) in primetime games which is the top winning percentage in the NFL. Ironically, both of those losses came in 2018 and were both at home on Sunday Night Football: Baltimore in Week 4 and Los Angeles chargers in Week 13. Prior to last year‘s loss to the Ravens, the Steelers had a streak of 11 straight victories in regular season primetime games.
But should Steelers Nation expect the same outcome in 2019? Personally, I believe the Steelers primetime success this season will come down to two factors.
Primetime games are not just about playing under the lights, they are also about a national audience. With the Steelers playing so many of these games, the stage should not be too big for them. Additionally, it was just announced that their first two preseason games are going to be nationally televised live on the NFL Network, and both were already scheduled for 7:30 PM kickoffs. Additionally, the Steelers Week 3 preseason matchup against the Tennessee Titans will be on Sunday Night Football. Adding this preseason schedule to the veteran leadership on the team, experience should not be a negative factor when it comes to playing in primetime.
Where the struggles could begin for the Steelers when it to comes to their primetime lineup in 2019 is the quality opponents they face on the road. In the Steelers two home primetime games, Week 4 v. Cincinnati and Week 8 v. Miami, the Steelers are currently favored by 9 and 10 points respectively. In fact, these two games are the only ones in 2019 where the Steelers opening line has them favored by more than a touchdown. While the Steelers occasionally do not play well in games they are heavily favored (a topic yet to come in this series), these games are not ones which should raise much concern.
The Steelers primetime games on the road are a whole different monster. Of the 15 games in which Las Vegas has already put out there pointspreads (they do not do this for Week 17 for obvious reasons), the Steelers are underdogs in three games in 2019. All three of the games the Steelers are not favored to win are primetime games on the road: Week 1 in New England (+6), Week 6 in Los Angeles against the Chargers (+4.5), and Week 11 in Cleveland on Thursday night (+2.5).
Of course, these lines could change between now and each respective kick off. If the Steelers win their opener against New England, I would assume every line for the rest of the season would instantly move. But for now, these are the three games the Steelers are not supposed to win.
So if the Steelers lose all three of these games in 2019, does it mean their primetime success is over? Not at all. In fact, the Steelers were favored in 11 of their 12 primetime games since 2016. The only game the Steelers were not favored was Week 3 of 2018 in Tampa Bay, a game which they won. The last time the Steelers were underdogs in primetime three times in a season was in 2015 when they went 1-2, but could have just as easily been 2-1 if Josh Scobee hadn’t forgotten how to kick a football.
When it comes down to it, as long as the Steelers have a winning record in primetime in 2019 it should be considered a success. If the Steelers pull off going 3-2 in any combination of their five games, there is little reason for concern. If the Steelers continue to play their best football in primetime, the fact that their most difficult games are scheduled in this time-slot could be a very good thing.