The Pittsburgh Steelers definitely took advantage of having the fourth easiest schedule in 2011 by finishing the season with a 12-4 record. This upcoming season, the Steelers’ schedule is a bit tougher than last year, but is still very manageable. Their opponents’ combined record from last season is 128-128, which is tied with four other teams in the NFL for the 14th toughest schedule.
Pittsburgh’s 2012 schedule includes road games against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys in Weeks 9 and 15 respectively. In addition, the Steelers will host the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5, who they will face in the preseason as well, and the San Diego Chargers in Week 14.
However, Pittsburgh’s five toughest/most critical games of the 2012 campaign will be within the AFC, four of which are within the division.
In Week 1, the Steelers will start the season traveling to the place where last season ended and will face the Denver Broncos on Sunday night. The Denver-faithful will already be on an emotional high with the chance to finally see quarterback Peyton Manning under center.
This will be a tough challenge right off the bat for Pittsburgh’s defense. The Broncos led the league in rushing yards per game last season with 164.5 ypg. To make matters worse, the Steelers will have to start this season without veteran safety Ryan Clark. Clark will be unable to play due to a sickle cell trait that he has that could be detrimental to his health playing at such high altitudes in Denver.
Week 7 will be Pittsburgh’s third nationally televised game of the season, and will be their fourth road game of the season. This time they will travel to Paul Brown Stadium to square off against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati is a young, up-and-coming team, and was the third team in this division to make the playoffs last season. In addition, this will be the Steelers’ first divisional game of the season. Getting off on the right foot in a division where three of the four teams made the postseason will be very vital for Pittsburgh.
Weeks 11 and 13 might be the toughest two weeks of the entire season for the Steelers. Week 11 will bring yet another nationally televised game to the Steelers, this time they will play as host at Heinz Field and the opponent will be the Baltimore Ravens. In Week 13, one of the league’s fiercest rivalries will take place again in Baltimore.
These two meetings in a three-week span just may be a critical turning point in the AFC North. Last season both of these teams met in the season opener, with the Ravens destroying the Steelers. It wasn’t until Week 9 that these two teams met again, with Baltimore barely escaping with a three-point victory. Both Steelers-Ravens games this season just might resemble their second meeting of last season, because they will be played so close together.
The final tough/critical game for the Steelers will be the Week 16 battle against the Bengals. It’s very possible for the playoff picture to have not taken full shape yet at this point in the season. Late divisional games such as this could very well determine whether a team wins the division, or clinch the final wildcard spot for the postseason. In the AFC North, arguably the toughest division in the NFL, this could be a make-or-break game for either team.
Yes, their opponents’ combined record from last season is .500. However, Pittsburgh’s one game against the Broncos, and multiple games versus the Bengals and Ravens will more than likely tell the story of the Steelers in the 2012 season.
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