Thursday night the NFL released the 2017 schedule. For the Steelers it is clearly a schedule of two halves. Here are some quick thoughts.
1.) Bye Week: Players, coaches, beat writers, radio guys, I promise you the first thing everyone checks is when is the bye week. For the Steelers it comes right in the middle--Week 9. The season is evenly bifurcated. One benefit: if the team puts a player on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to open the season, the bye week gives that player some extra time to get back. I'm guessing that if every team got to choose the week for their bye, weeks 9 and 10 would top the list. Take: Positive
2.) Divisional Opponents: This will be the eighth time in ten years the Steelers will finish the regular season playing the Cleveland Browns, the fifth time at home. They will also open with the Browns in Cleveland. They opened with the Browns at home in 2014 and played them again in week 6. It will be the third straight year the Steeler open on the road. Overall the divisional games are nicely spread out, unlike last year when the Steeler only played one divisional opponent in the first seven weeks and closed with three straight games within the division. This year's divisional games are week 1, the Ravens in Baltimore in week 4 as they return from London, Cincinnati home week 7, at Cincinnati week 13, Baltimore home week 14 and Cleveland home week 17. Take: Positive
3.) Prime Time: It appears that the NFL took last year's television ratings numbers into account. The early season numbers weren't good last season, but they picked up nicely after the Presidential election. Since the league can only put marquee teams in prime time five times, they apparently want the biggest bang for their buck. At least it sure looks that way when you look at the Steelers schedule. The Steelers will not be in prime time at all the first seven weeks, but then the onslaught begins. In week 8 the Steelers play Sunday night in Detroit and then have their bye week. After returning with a 1:00 pm game against the Colts in Indy the Steelers play four straight weeks in prime time. I'm guessing that has never happened before. Titans, Green Bay, Baltimore, at Cincinnati, then 4:25 vs the Pats is some seriously appetizing football. Take: Neutral/Positive
4.) Short Weeks: The Steelers only have two short weeks of preparation in 2017 and both will come against division opponents they will have already played and both are at home. Week 13 they play Monday night at Cincinnati and then play the Ravens at home on Sunday night. Week 16 they play the Texans in Houston on Christmas Day at 4:25 before closing the season with a 1:00 game against the Browns. Take: Positive
5.) Home Sweet Dome: Ben's struggles on the road the past few years have been well-documented. This year the Steelers only play one outdoor road game after Oct. 15, at Cincinnati December 4. The games against the Lions, Texans and Colts will all be indoors and Ben torched the Colts in Indy last year. Take: Positive
6.) Traveling Men: Steelers traveled the fewest miles of any team last year and their longest road trips this year will only be to Kansas City and Houston. The only play outside the eastern time zone three times with Chicago being the other. Take: Positive
7.) Holidays: Last year the Steelers played on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. This year, open the presents early and get the turkey out of the oven by 2 because the Steelers play on Christmas again. At Houston. 4:30. I don't think there were a lot of Ho, Ho, Hos at the Steelers UPMC Rooney facility when they saw that. Take: Negative
8.) Strength of Schedule: It's pretty meaningless to judge SOS with the season more than five months away, but based on last year:
Obviously playing the 1-15 Browns twice is a big part of that. Take: Positive
9.) Overall Record: As you can see there are lots of positive for the Steelers from this year's schedule. This is a fools errand for sure, but put me down for 12-4.