It happens every year. When the schedule is released you see charts and projections of the upcoming slate of games. The teams who have the most difficult, and easiest, schedules among all 32 NFL teams.
In 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the proud owners of the toughest schedule in the league, but there is a huge caveat to this simple statement. The aforementioned toughest schedule is based solely on 2020 Win-Loss percentage.
I get it, at this point it is the only real metric anyone can have to dictate how a team might perform in the upcoming year; however, a lot can change rapidly. This weekend was the perfect example of that when the Atlanta Falcons dealt All-Pro receiver Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans.
The Falcons will receive a 2022 second-round draft pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick for Jones and a sixth-round pick in 2023.
Just like that, the Steelers’ Week 15 opponent at Heinz Field, the Tennessee Titans, will have a superstar receiver alongside A.J. Brown, Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill. Yeah, that game just got a lot tougher for the black and gold.
Nonetheless, this is just the latest example of how an NFL team’s schedule can change dramatically in just the course of one week.
A perfect example would be the Steelers’ 2020 Week 9 game at the Dallas Cowboys. At this time a year ago everyone was excited for what was scheduled to be a showdown between Ben Roethlisberger and Dak Prescott. With the two legendary franchises about to light up the scoreboard, an early season ankle injury knocked Prescott out of the lineup for the rest of the season, and the Steelers faced Garrett Gilbert en route to a 24-19 road victory.
Things are constantly changing in the NFL, and when you look at the Steelers’ 2021 schedule, there is a lot of uncertainty throughout the 17-game slate.
What if Aaron Rodgers gets traded, or sits out the 2021 season? If so, that certainly would change a lot about the Steelers’ Week 4 trip to Lambeau Field to play the Packers.
What if Rodgers is shipped to a team like the Denver Broncos? Instead of facing Drew Lock, the Steelers would host Rodgers and company in Week 5 at Heinz Field. Suddenly that game just got a lot more difficult.
If Justin Fields wins the starting job for the Chicago Bears, and is dynamic, a game many Steelers fans have penciled in as a ‘W’ might be more of a challenge than anyone expected entering the season.
You get the point here. We can all speculate, and that is exactly what fans do, but we should always remember things change throughout the season.
Just look at the Steelers’ 2019 season. The Steelers were expected to be front-runners in the AFC, but when Ben Roethlisebrger blew out his elbow in Week 2 vs. the Seattle Seahawks, those expectations changed dramatically with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges under center.
A lot can change between now and the Steelers’ Week 1 season opener in Buffalo vs. the Bills on September 12th. So keep that in the back of your mind before you plan the demise of the 2021 Steelers.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they press on throughout Organized Team Activities (OTAs), mandatory minicamp and prepare for training camp.