On the most recent podcast of the Steelers Stat Geek, I was asked to compare the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers and how they finished the 2007 season to the 2021 Steelers and their late season collapse of 2020. The reason I was asked to compare these two years is because the Steelers were faced with the NFL‘s most difficult schedule in these seasons of 2008 and 2021. The question was if there were similarities with the two teams, and there were several things which lined up the same.
In comparing these two years, it was very interesting to see how the 2007 Steelers dropped three of their last four games but yet were still able to hold on to win the AFC North with a record of 10-6. Unfortunately, the Steelers lost in the Wild Card Round of the 2007 NFL playoffs while hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars. After opening the scoring with a Najeh Davenport touchdown, the Steelers gave up three straight touchdowns before halftime and found the deficit too much to overcome as they lost on a 25-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining in the game.
While the 2020 Steelers didn’t manage to completely erase the hole they fell in during the 2020 Wild Card Game, the fact the Steelers struggled to find a way to win games late in the season and gave up a lot of touchdowns early in the playoffs was strikingly similar to 2007.
So can the Steelers repeat the magic of the 2008 season? Can they overcome the late-season collapse from the previous year and win a majority of their games despite having the NFL’s most difficult schedule? How have other teams fared when having the most difficult schedule in the NFL?
Going back as far as 1997, the 2008 Steelers faced the NFL’s most difficult schedule of any season based on their opponent’s record from the previous season. The win percentage of .598 still has not been matched since that time. Despite this fact, the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl that season after being AFC North champions with a record of 12-4.
Going back as far as 2008, results have varied when teams have the NFL most difficult schedule. After the Steelers winning the Super Bowl in 2008, the 2009 season the Miami Dolphins having the most difficult schedule at a .594 winning percentage. The Dolphins went 7-9 in 2009 and did not qualify for the postseason.
In 2010, the Houston Texans had the most difficult schedule with .547 and they went 6-10. The 2011 Carolina Panthers also went 6-10 when they had the most difficult schedule with a .555 winning percentage. The 2012 season saw a slight change in results as the New York Giants managed a winning record at 9-7 when having the NFL’s most difficult schedule at .547 winning percentage but did not make the playoffs.
Teams facing the NFL’s is most difficult schedule saw a turnaround starting in 2013 when the Carolina Panthers went to 12-4 after having the NFL’s most difficult schedule with a .543 winning percentage and lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. 2014 saw the Arizona Cardinals going 11–5 when facing a .547 winning percentage but lost in the Wild Card Round of the postseason.
In 2015 there was a return to the Pittsburgh Steelers having the most difficult record in the NFL. Despite facing opponents with a winning percentage of .578, the Steelers went to 10-6 and qualified for the postseason. After defeating the Bengals in Cincinnati 18-16, the Steelers fell to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos on the road with an injury-riddled squad who still almost pulled off the victory.
The 2016 season gave some very interesting data as both the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons were tied for the most difficult schedule with a .555 winning percentage. While the 49ers went 2-14 for the year, it was the Atlanta Falcons who went 11-5 and went all the way to the Super Bowl before giving up a historic comeback to fall in overtime.
Since 2016, there has not been a team who had a winning record when faced with the NFL’s most difficult schedule. The 2017 Denver Broncos went 5-11 where the Green Bay Packers of 2018 went 6-9-1. The 2019 Oakland Raiders went 7-9 as did the 2020 New England Patriots when having the NFL’s most difficult schedule.
So how will the 2021 season play out? With the Steelers having their opponents winning percentage of .574, will they be part of the group that made the postseason or will they extend the streak of losing records? Does the fact the last two times the Steelers had the most difficult schedule in the NFL they qualified for the postseason and won at least one playoff game factor into this team’s ability to overcome the adversity? Ultimately, only time will tell to see if the Pittsburgh Steelers are up to the challenge of the difficult schedule they face this coming season.
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