Before the 2015 season started, the Pittsburgh Steelers' schedule was considered to be the toughest in the entire NFL. It certainly seemed daunting based on the projected strength of their opponents. The schedule was even more difficult in light of Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension and Martavis Bryant's four-game suspension, which was announced much closer to the start of the season than Bell's.
If the suspensions had been the worst of the Steelers' problems, they would be blessed. Since that time, the Steelers have lost their starting quarterback for several weeks due to a knee injury. Their Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is out with a broken ankle, which recently required a second surgery. Kelvin Beachum is out for the season with a knee injury he suffered against the Cardinals in Week 5. There was also the Josh Scobee debacle, which followed the loss of placekickers Shaun Suisham and Garrett Hartley in quick succession.
So, while the Steelers have certainly encountered more challenges than anticipated or even feared, other NFL teams haven't been as scary as expected going into the season. Looking back at the first seven weeks, how tough has the Steelers schedule actually been?
The Pittsburgh Steelers
Preseason Power Rankings: 9
Week 1 Power Rankings: 5
Week 7 Power Rankings: 8
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't far off of the mark even though they are missing a slew of key players.
Week 1: New England Patriots- L 21-28
Preseason Power Ranking: 4
Week 1 Power Ranking: 4
Week 7 Power Ranking: 1
Stronger than Expected
The Steelers loss to the Patriots wasn't a huge surprise, especially after Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's victory in court that vacated his four-game suspension. Preseason power rankings were based on the assumption that Tom Brady would be suspended for part of the season. Pundits also assumed that the loss of Vince Wilfork, coupled with a weak secondary, would hinder the team.
Week 2: San Francisco 49ers- W 18-43
Preseason Power Ranking: 26
Week 1 Power Ranking: 27
Week 7 Power Ranking: 23
The San Francisco 49ers were predicted to be a weak team, and they are. In Week 2, the Steelers came away with an easy win.
Week 3: St. Louis Rams- W 12-6
Preseason Power Ranking: 19
Week 1 Power Ranking: 19
Week 7 Power Ranking: 15
The Rams are currently 2-3, and are meeting expectations so far this season. Not surprisingly, the Rams are inconsistent, performing well some weeks and appearing inept others. The Steelers beat the Rams in a hard-fought defensive battle during which Ben Roethlisberger injured his knee.
This game could have gone either way due to the strength of the Rams' front seven.
Week 4: Baltimore Ravens- L 23-20
Preseason Power Ranking: 13
Week 1 Power Ranking: 14
Week 7 Power Ranking: 28
Way Weaker than Expected
Nobody predicted the Ravens would be quite this bad. Their lone victory was in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were led by second-string quarterback Michael Vick and had Josh Scobee as placekicker. The Ravens have lost most of their team to injury, free agency, and retirement. The game against the Ravens should have been an easy victory for the Steelers.
Week 5: San Diego Chargers- 24-20
Preseason Power Ranking: 14
Week 1 Power Ranking: 13
Week 7 Power Ranking: 17
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers is having a strong season, but at 2-4 the Chargers record doesn't reflect the quality of the team. So far, the Chargers have lost to the Bengals, Vikings, Steelers, Packers, and Raiders. They lost to the Raiders and Vikings by a wide margin and couldn't pull out a victory against the Steelers who were missing several key players.
Week 6: Arizona Cardinals- W 13-25
Preseason Power Ranking: 6
Week 1 Power Ranking: 9
Week 7 Power Ranking: 9
For a while, the Cardinals were ranked even higher. Their Week-6 loss to the Steelers caused them to fall three spots in the Power Rankings. Even with a healthy Steelers squad, the matchup at Heinz Field was expected to be difficult. Somehow, the Steelers with Michael Vick and Landry Jones at the helm were able to hand the Cardinals a depressing loss.
Week 7: Kansas City Chiefs- L 13-23
Preseason Power Ranking: 8
Week 1 Power Ranking: 7
Week 7 Power Ranking: 30
Way Weaker than Expected
The Chiefs were expected to field a strong team this season, but have had major problems winning, an important characteristic of a successful NFL team. With Jamaal Charles injured, their long-term prospects seem even more dismal.
Going into the season, this game could have been considered a toss-up. Going into Week 7, it was clear the Steelers had the tools to beat the floundering Chiefs even with Landry Jones in at quarterback. Instead, the Chiefs walked away with their second victory of the season.
Preseason Power Rankings: 10
Week 1 Power Rankings: 11
Week 7 Power Rankings: 3
The Bengals have definitely exceeded expectations this season, and will present more of a challenge to the Steelers than initially predicted.
Preseason Power Rankings: 28
Week 1 Power Rankings: 26
Week 7 Power Rankings: 18
The Raiders could be a tough opponent. The Steelers defense will have its work cut out for them, especially considering how well quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper have been playing.
The Steelers have lost to the two teams that are performing significantly worse than projected. The Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs should have been easy wins. Those losses, coupled with the injuries, have more than neutralized any benefit of strong teams suddenly morphing into weak teams during the course of the season.
While the Bengals and Raiders are more menacing opponents than originally predicted, the Browns, Seahawks and Colts are more more manageable. Not many fans are fearing the November 29 game in Seattle the way they were in the off-season.