Last Thursday when the NFL rolled out all 32 NFL teams' 2016 schedules, fan rushed to check out who and when their favorite team would be playing games in the coming season. People always look at the schedule and gloss over it looking at things like prime time games, holidays and the bye week, but are there more intricacies most fans might be overlooking? Absolutely, and we plan on divulging some of those here for you to mull over in the coming offseason.
Home and Away
The Steelers have a pretty even schedule, in terms of home games and away. Obviously, there are the same amount of home and away games, but the Steelers play back-to-back road games Week 11 and 12, and again in Weeks 14 and 15. On the flip side, the team plays back-to-back home games in Weeks 4 and 5, as well as to finish the season at Heinz Field in Weeks 16 and 17.
Divisional Games Backloaded
The Steelers play only one divisional game, a Week 2 meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field, before their bye week in Week 8. That means the other 5 meetings with the Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens will all be jammed into the final 9 weeks of the season.
You will hear a lot of "experts" talk about a Week 8 Bye week and how perfect it is for a NFL team. I often laugh at this sentiment considering the week off could be beneficial at multiple times throughout the year. Look at the Steelers' 2015 season as an example. The team would have loved a Week 8 Bye week last year, it would have given Ben Roethlisberger an extra week off before returning from his knee injury. Instead, their late Bye week had him play on a gimpy leg and throw away a game against the Bengals at Heinz Field. A week off is always a good time, but if there is a week you could pick on the calendar, smack dab in the middle is as good a spot as any I guess.
Prime Time + Evening Games
Just like the talk about the Bye week, you will hear many fans complaining about the Steelers not getting the maximum 5 prime time games, as they only have 4 on their current slate of games. However, not only could one of their late season games be flexed into a prime time slot, the team is also playing 5 evening games. These games against the Eagles, Patriots, Cowboys, New York Giants and Ravens will all likely be nationally televised games. I, for one, am happy the team is playing more evening games than night games...2 a.m. bed times can make for a tough day after.
AFC East arrives early, and almost goes early
The Steelers, and the AFC North, are paired with the AFC East in 2016. The Steelers will play three of the four teams in the division in consecutive weeks. They will host the New York Jets in Week 5, travel to the Miami Dolphins in Week 6 and host the Patriots at Heinz Field before their Bye week in Week 7. The only remaining AFC East game on the schedule is a Week 14 game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, NY.
Easy on Predictions
When the 2015 schedule was released, fans bemoaned the team's post-Bye week stretch of games. The Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns awaited the team. This "murderer's row" of games certainly changed when the schedule actually rolled around. In fact, it got pretty soft. The Seahawks were dynamic, but the Steelers then faced Brock Osweiler, Ryan Mallett, AJ McCarron, and whichever quarterback the Browns dressed that Sunday. Not exactly a tough stretch of quarterbacks. You never know what will happen in the NFL, so hold off on the predictions until the season actually arrives.
Speaking of Quarterbacks...
The Steelers defense will face the following quarterbacks in 2016 (barring injury or trades):
Week 1: Kirk Cousins
Week 2: Andy Dalton
Week 3: Sam Bradford
Week 4: Alex Smith
Week 5: Most likely Ryan Fitzpatrick, but that is still undecided
Week 6: Ryan Tannehill
Week 7: Tom Brady
Week 9: Joe Flacco
Week 10: Tony Romo
Week 11: Robert Griffin III, but really who knows
Week 12: Andrew Luck
Week 13: Eli Manning
Week 14: Tyrod Taylor
Week 15: Andy Dalton
Week 16: Joe Flacco
Week 17: Probably someone other than Robert Griffin III