With the NFL Draft only weeks away and several free agent signings having been completed throughout the league, the 2016-2017 NFL year is well underway, with the most recent happening being the release of the full NFL regular season schedule.
We take the time to analyze each game as the season is now set for our Pittsburgh Steelers to make their push for a seventh Lombardi trophy.
Week 1 Monday 7:10PM at Washington
The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers visited FedEx Field was the eve of the 2008 Presidential election in which President Barack Obama would be elected. That game was also on Monday night football when Byron Leftwich would lead the team to victory. This time Pittsburgh will be entering fresh for the season and, barring any preseason injuries, should have the full roster available. Washington will be coming into a season after somewhat resolving a quarterback controversy between Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, but with several questions across the board.
Cousins showed sporadic success in 2015 and stepped up to the occasion more than once to send Washington to the postseason as NFC East champions. This would be a good opening test on the Steelers' defense against an unfamiliar opponent with a young quarterback and a playoff contender.
What is most ironic about this game is that after last season the Steelers being the first game on opening weekend, this year they become one of the last.
Week 2 Sunday 1:00PM vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The rematch of the wild card playoff game comes early in the year when Pittsburgh gets to host the Bengals whom should be missing Vontaze Burfict due to his suspension after his unsportsmanlike conduct during the playoffs and throughout, well, his career.
Andy Dalton will be a big story for this game after his season ended from trying to tackle the Steelers' defensive end, Stephon Tuitt, on an interception late in the 2015 season on a broken thumb injury. The Bengals lost in embarrassing fashion in the playoffs in a game that certainly made a case for the Steelers/Bengals rivalry being one of the more brutal in the NFL.
Week 3 Sunday 4:25PM at Philadelphia Eagles
Tough to predict what the Eagles will look like coming into this game as the entire franchise was stripped by the Chip Kelly who stood in as head coach and general manager, only for the organization to strip the team of Kelly and most of his acquired players during this past offseason. The Eagles will need to find their own identity and nucleus this season and an early game against the Steelers would be an opportunity to either show the league they're ready to be contenders or just how far they have to go to get back after the Chip Kelly debacle.
Week 4 Sunday 8:30PM vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Steelers get their second primetime game of the season in a rematch of last year against the Kansas City Chiefs. This will be the third straight season in which these teams have met with the most recent matchup going to the Chiefs when they defeated a Landry Jones led Pittsburgh offense.
The Chiefs were left to adjust to life without Jamaal Charles last season and finished second in the AFC West. Alex Smith having Charles along with Travis Kelce may help Smith's limited mistake style of play. Their defense will get a tough test against the Steelers' offense and should they be early contenders in the AFC West, this may be the game of the week.
Week 5 Sunday 1:00PM vs. New York Jets
The Jets have played the Steelers tough the past few times these teams have met, and although they did not play Pittsburgh in 2015, the Steelers were the team that bounced the Jets from the playoffs in week 17 via tiebreakers. Todd Bowles seemed to make a positive impact on the direction of the team that seemed all but lost at the end of the Rex Ryan era. Questions still remain as to who the Jets will have at quarterback as Ryan Fitzpatrick has been their starter but is still an unsigned free agent.
Despite their questions on offense, their defensive front is still one of the more intimidating in the NFL so long as Muhammad Wilkerson is on the team. When these two teams face off, keep an eye on how the Steelers' offensive line of high draft picks performs against the Jets' defensive line of high draft picks.
Week 6 Sunday 1:00PM at Miami Dolphins
Pittsburgh gets to travel to play against a team with a young offensive tandem in Ryan Tannehill, Jordan Cameron and Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins finished 6-10 last season which was bad enough for last in the AFC East. Many may view this as the first real "trap game" which fans fear haunt Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.
Week 7 Sunday 4:25 vs. New England Patriots
The last time the Patriots came to Heinz Field they were defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers on a day in which the pass rush turned up against Tom Brady and the offense was able to muster enough of an early lead to hold onto victory. Both teams are significantly different than what they were in 2011, while the Patriots' defense has improved with younger players, so has the Steelers. A more consistent pass rush could make for a much different outcome than what was the season opener of 2015.
Week 8 Bye week
This is a perfect spot for the bye week. Right after what will be a major matchup against the Patriots and right before the Steelers play their most fierce rival.
Week 9 Sunday 1:00PM at Baltimore Ravens
Former Steelers' wide receiver Mike Wallace will get his first crack at showing up the team that drafted him when Pittsburgh comes to M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are on a three game win streak against the Steelers which will certainly be the story of this game whether or not either team is making a playoff push.
Week 10 Sunday 4:25 vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are have some of the biggest questions of any teams coming into 2016, after a dominating season in 2014 but a lackluster injury filled 2015, it is reasonable to wonder where they will be at this point in the year. Pittsburgh will need to bring it's best game regardless as all three of the games in which the Steelers have played the Cowboys during Ben Roethlisberger's career have ended with the victor only winning by one possession.
Week 11 Sunday 1:00PM at Cleveland Browns
Who knows what the quarterback carousel of the Browns will be like at this point of the season. Maybe Robert Griffin III is the answer, maybe they will pick up the right quarterback in the draft, or maybe it will be some no-name journeyman quarterback who has taken over the position like every other year. Either way, the Browns will get their first crack at Pittsburgh under the leadership of Hue Jackson.
Week 12 Thursday 8:30PM at Indianapolis Colts
The Steelers will get their third primetime game of the season on Thanksgiving evening when they visit the Colts. Indianapolis had a disappointing season full of injuries which kept stars like Andrew Luck on the sidelines. The Steelers dominated their last matchup in 2015, as well as the offensive showdown in 2014, but the Colts will be going for their third shot at Pittsburgh in as many years nonetheless.
Week 13 Sunday 4:25PM vs. New York Giants
Ben Roethlisberger faces Eli Manning for a fourth time in their careers after meeting in both their rookie seasons of 2004. While Ben leads the series at 2-1, Manning won the only time the two teams met at Heinz Field. The Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. will be a star to watch in this game against the Steelers' secondary while the Giants' secondary attempts to cover the best receiver in the game in Antonio Brown.
Week 14 Sunday 1:00PM at Buffalo Bills
Rex Ryan's Bills simmered out to an 8-8 finish last season but with talent such as Lesean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and Stephon Gillmore, the team is not one to be overlooked on the schedule for a late challenge to both the Steelers and a wild card possibility.
Week 15 Thursday 8:30PM at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals will have to face Pittsburgh in the dreaded primetime game which seems to rarely go in Cincinnati's favor during a game which will be the first time Vontaze Burfict has a chance to face the team that has been on his mind all offseason. The Steelers play their fourth and final scheduled primetime game this week.
Week 16 Sunday 4:30PM vs. Baltimore Ravens
On Christmas day the Steelers and the Ravens will be made to put aside all love for their fellow man when they try to tear each other apart in what should be a key battle to decide how the AFC North will be won and have a major impact on the playoff picture for the entire AFC.
Week 17 Sunday 1:00PM vs. Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh gets to end their season with back-to-back home games against divisional opponents. This might be a major story for how 2016 will unfold, making for a New Years Day showdown between the Steelers and their oldest standing "rival."
The NFL got it right when they scheduled the Bengals for at least one of the early matchups so that Vontaze Burfict could sit on the sidelines and watch his team try to win without him against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs and then have to wait until it is closer to the end of the season before another rematch.
The bye week coming directly in the middle of the season and right after a major game against the Patriots could not come at a better time. Ultimately fans should be excited to see the schedule we have considering the opponents we already knew were in line. Plenty of primetime games as well as a game on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years' Day make for a lot of easy viewership.