The Carolina Panthers will enjoy home-field advantage Sunday night when they host the Steelers on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
It wasn't long ago the Steelers beat the tar out of a Jimmy Clausen-led Panthers team on primetime that was about to select Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Times have changed a bit.
The Steelers are 17-17 in their last 34 regular-season games, a stat largely pointing to the slide into mediocrity fans have been lamenting since the start of the 2013 season. They were 26-8 in the 34 games prior to that, encompassing the final two weeks of the 2009 season through their Week 2 loss to Baltimore last week. What's interesting in that massive drop-off is the fact the Steelers are only two games worse at home (11-6) than they were back then (13-4). But their road record has dropped off quite a bit, from 13-4 during the span from last two weeks of 2009 to 2011, to a dismal 6-11 mark on the road from 2012-14.
This year is falling right in that same line, with their win over Cleveland at home and their loss to Baltimore on the road. The Panthers were four-point favorites heading into Sunday night, and that might increase as we draw closer to the game.
Another team struggling on the road is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a squad that took what will probably be one of the worst defeats of the season Thursday in Atlanta. After the 56-14 thrashing the Falcons put on the Bucs, the home team is 2-0 on Thursday night, having a collective advantage of 82-20. The Steelers contributed 26 points to the home team and six to the visitors in their loss to Baltimore.
If the Steelers manage to score an upset of the Panthers Sunday, they'd head home at 2-1 for a game against the shattered Buccaneers at Heinz Field. Carolina is about as formidable an opponent as there is in the NFL for a variety of reasons, but should the Steelers pull out a less-common road upset on Sunday night, they'll likely be touchdown favorites against the depleted Buccaneers and staring down the opportunity to hit 3-1 for the first time since 2010.
Lots of ifs in this scenario, but this goes to show how early in the season it is. At least both the Steelers and Buccaneers are feeling that way.
Steelers take shaky recent road record into Carolina
The Steelers are nine games off the pace they set from the end of 2009 through the end of 2011, but their home record has stood tall. The road has been the problem.