The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL Thursday night.
When the Steelers home and away opponents were announced at the end of last season, I thought to myself, “Man did the NFL give the Steelers a gift.” They will make 0 trips to the west coast; their longest plane ride of the year is to the Big Easy for a preseason game.
But with the official release of the NFL schedule Thursday, the road to Super Bowl 51 could be even easier than I originally thought.
One reason is the Steelers will avoid Vontaze Burfict for one of the two games with Cincinnati, who they will host Week 2. Everyone believed the NFL would put the Steelers and Bengals in a Week 4 matchup, when Burfict returns from his suspension. Instead, the Steelers will host the Chiefs on Sunday night football. The Chiefs were the hottest team in football at this end of last season after a horrible start. Their turnaround started in a win at Arrowhead over the Steelers, a game that Landry Jones started for Big Ben.
Along with the Chiefs, the Steelers will play three other games in primetime as well as games on Thanksgiving (@Colts), Christmas (vs Ravens) and New Year’s Day (vs Browns). I cannot confirm if the Steelers have ever played on all three holidays in one year.
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Probably the biggest game on the Steelers schedule for 2016 is their Week 7 matchup with the New England Patriots at Heinz Field. For the Pats, this game is buffered between games at home vs the Bengals and a road game at Buffalo. The Steelers will look to avenge their lost to the Patriots in the NFL Opener last year. A win over New England would not only be a momentum booster heading into the bye week, but could establish the Steelers as the team to beat in the AFC.
After the bye week, the Steelers will play three of four on the road before hitting the season’s final month. I would be shocked if they are swept by the Ravens again, but Baltimore is now healthy and looking to reclaim their status as a contender. The Colts are in the same boat too, they should be much improved with a healthy Andrew Luck and a retooled defense and offensive line.
Looking at December, the game at Buffalo screams trap game and it could be. Playing the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in December/January can spell doom for a playoff contender. Ask the Jets last season or the Packers in 2014, who both were upset in Buffalo. Plus the Steelers could be looking ahead to their game at the Bengals the following week. Whether it’s the cold weather or insane fans, winning at the Ralph is no easy task.
Overall, this schedule sets up the Steelers for a potential run at the Super Bowl. At this moment, I put the Steelers at 12 or 13 wins for 2016, which should be good to lock up one of the top seeds in the AFC. If the team can stay healthy and avoid the silly losses that has plagued the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Houston come February.