2012 NFL Schedule: Steelers Schedule and Opponent Breakdown

Todd Swoope@ToddSwoopeContributor IIIApril 17, 2012

2012 NFL Schedule: Steelers Schedule and Opponent Breakdown

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    With the final NFL schedules released, the Pittsburgh Steelers now know the challenge that they will face this season.

    The Steelers will face the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins all at home, while the road games will be played against the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. As always, Pittsburgh will face the AFC North teams twice during the season, once on the road and once at Heinz Field.

    So for those keeping score, the divisions the Steelers will play against are the AFC West, NFC East, and, of course, the AFC North. Not exactly the most daunting schedule. In fact, the Steelers have a schedule that ranks in the middle of the pack in difficulty. According to an article by John Clayton, the Steelers' strength of schedule has gotten a little tougher from last season, sitting now at .500.

    It has been known for quite a while what teams the Steelers would play this season, but not the exact order and dates of these games. Those questions have finally been answered.

    With those answers now official, it’s time to look at each of the teams the Steelers will play, as well as any potential problems the schedule has created.

Denver Broncos: Week 1

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    One month ago, the Broncos were still quarterbacked by Tim Tebow and considered a long shot to do anything this season; oh how the times change. With the acquisition of Peyton Manning and the departure of Tebow, the Broncos have gone from playoff afterthought to Super Bowl contender.

    The Broncos are going to be way better, that much is certain. They go from an inept passer in Tebow to a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Manning.

    Manning will make every player on that team better. Demaryius Thomas will become a legitimate No. 1 receiver with Manning throwing the ball, and Eric Decker will improve as well. Everything about the passing game will improve by leaps and bounds.

    The running game, which was the No. 1 unit in football last season, will improve as well. Opposing defenses will have to stay honest and worry about the pass from Manning.

    The defense also will get better than it was last season. The defense carried the team during the Tebow days, holding opponents to low scores and giving Tebow a chance to do his fourth-quarter magic.

    Chances are, the Broncos will play with the lead this season.

    Oh, they still have savior kicker, Matt Prater, too.

    Outside of the division, this is probably the toughest game the Steelers will play, and it's in Denver. Week 1 will be a good chance to see what the Steelers are made of. Ryan Clark will sit out due to his medical condition, so this game goes to the Broncos right now.

New York Jets: Week 2

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    The Tim Tebow show comes to Pittsburgh.

    The Steelers will be looking for vengeance after they suffered a postseason loss to the Tebow-led Broncos.

    On paper, the Jets are a better team than those Broncos who beat the Steelers, but with various locker-room problems from last season possibly lingering, an aging defense, a possible quarterback controversy and lack of weapons at receiver except for Santonio Holmes, the Jets have a myriad of question marks and could be in some trouble.

    The Jets' strongest asset is their offensive line and running game. But in this matchup, that won’t help them much as the Steeler defense stuffs the run and forces either Mark Sanchez or Tebow to beat them through the air.

    The Jet defense is getting older and slower, and might be without leader Bart Scott if he ends up getting traded. Darelle Revis is still the best corner in the league, but he's only one man.

    The Steelers will play with added intensity if it's Tebow starting for the Jets, wanting to make amends for the loss in Denver. PIttsburgh gets the win.

Oakland Raiders: Week 3

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    Carson Palmer will once again face the team that made his life miserable during his time with the Bengals. He's lucky that the Steelers have to come halfway across the country to him this time, though.

    The Raiders have plenty of promise. Palmer is the best quarterback they've had since Rich Gannon, even if he is over the hill. With Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore at receiver, and Kevin Boss at tight end, Palmer has plenty of reliable targets.

    Now that Michael Bush has left town, Darren McFadden looks to return from injury and be the main guy once more in Oakland.

    The Raiders' once-stout defense has fallen on hard times and will look to improve on a rough 2011 season.

    The only thing keeping Oakland in this game on paper is the fact that the Steelers travel to them, something that has not always played in Pittsburgh's favor. Pittsburgh should still be favored in this game.

Philadelpha Eagles: Week 5

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    This will be year No. 2 for the Eagles and their “dream team” on defense. After a year of disappointment after a huge free-agent spending spree, people have to wonder which defense will show up this season, the one made of Pro Bowlers or the one that doesn’t seem to have any chemistry.

    Michael Vick will also look to have a bounce-back year and put up big numbers once again. With the return of DeSean Jackson, minus his contract troubles, coupled with Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, the Eagle offense has the chance to be downright dangerous.

    McCoy was a beast for the Eagles last season, scoring 17 touchdowns, and should put up double-digit TDs once again. Jackson had a highly disappointing year, as his contract talks, or the lack thereof, seemed to weigh heavily on  the young receiver. With that cleared up, look for Jackson to bounce back.

    The Eagles will stand a very good chance of winning this game if the defense learns to play together and Vick returns to the form that made people covet him in fantasy football. If not, it could get out of hand.

Tennessee Titans: Week 6

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    The Tennessee Titans did more than anyone thought they would during the 2011 season, and will look to continue that success.

    Matt Hasselback was a pleasant surprise last season, and looks to go into camp competing with second-year man Jake Locker for the starting quarterback job.

    Chris Johnson had a dismal year, as his production went way down following a training-camp holdout over frustration with his contract, and he never really got the wheels turning. Off-season pickup Steve Hutchinson should help open holes for the nimble Johnson.

    At receiver, the Titans have Kenny Britt coming back from injury. He will join returnees Nate Washington and tight end Jared Cook.

    The defense will have to shore itself up after the loss of Cortland Finnegan to free agency, so question marks are there.

    Despite being played in Tennessee, Pittsburgh should win this game handily.

Cincinnati Bengals: Weeks 7 and 16

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    The Bengals were an upstart team last year and will continue to be better. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will have had a full offseason to work together, and the rest of the team will be more experienced. The Bengals always play the Steelers tough, especially at Paul Brown Stadium, and the Steelers will have to bring their A game when the two teams meet.

    Green has shown the ability to hurt the Steelers defense for big plays, a trend that will continue for years because of this man’s talent. Green's improvement goes hand in hand with Dalton's. Dalton should continue to build upon the success he had last year, and be a stable force for the Bengals for years to come.

    The defense under Mike Zimmer will play tough and put the pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, even with the loss of Frostee Rucker and has a hoast of new faces coming in as free agents.

    Expect these games to be close, but for Pittsburgh’s veteran leadership and play-making ability to be the difference in both, resulting in two more Steeler victories.

Washington Redskins: Week 8

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    Pittsburgh figures to get its first taste of Robert Griffin III when the Redskins come to town.

    Washington spent a lot of money this off-season, acquiring Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to go along with Santana Moss, and gave up even more to draft RG3. Expectations are very high in Washington, as it seem like the franchise will finally have the opportunity to become relevant again and compete for championships with Griffin at the helm.

    With a defense led by the recently re-signed London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, it’s difficult to guess just how well the Redskins will do this season, and honestly it will all be up to how fast Griffin assimilates into the offense.

    The game is being played in Pittsburgh, though, and Griffin will still be a rookie quarterback playing against Dick LeBeau's defense, and that’s enough to give Pittsburgh the edge in this matchup.

New York Giants: Week 9

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    The Steelers face the defending Super Bowl champion Giants and a defense that has a pass rush that should make Ben Roethlisberger nervous.

    The Giants are a very good football team that knows how to win. Eli Manning has cemented himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He is a threat to pass for 300 yards each game.

    Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Dominek Hixon look to give the Giants a very scary receiving corps, with Cruz and Nicks being Pro Bowl-caliber receivers.

    The situation at running back is up in the air, with Ahmad Bradshaw being the starter, with not much behind him.

    The defense is the meat of this team. The pass rush led by Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul should have Big Ben and the offensive line very nervous. This defense has been the reason the Giants won two Super Bowls against Tom Brady and his offense. It destroys quarterbacks.

    With a game in New York, Pittsburgh loses this one.

Kansas City Chiefs: Week 10

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    In Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs have a new coach who is familiar with the AFC North and the Steelers, and should be better than they were last year. With several key starters returning from injuries, the Chiefs are poised to become a force in the AFC West once more.

    Eric Berry will return to a defense that is led by Tamba Hali. He is joined in the secondary by free-agent acquisition Stanford Routt.

    On offense, tight end Tony Moeaki and running back Jamaal Charles return from ACL tears and should provide a great boost to an offense that was essentially Dwayne Bowe and a rag-tag groups of backs last year. Matt Cassel will continue to be the incumbent at quarterback. 

    Being at home will play in the Steelers' favor. The screaming fans and roaring winds of Heinz Field will help the Steelers get a victory.

Baltimore Ravens: Weeks 11 and 13

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    This is arguably the best rivalry in football.

    Last season Baltimore thrashed Pittsburgh in the opener in Baltimore, and then beat the Steelers in the last seconds at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has not forgotten those losses and will be sure to play as tough and as physical with the Ravens as ever before.

    The Ravens have had a rough off-season, with key losses on both sides of the ball. An unhappy Joe Flacco and Ray Rice haven't helped matters either They will have to do the best they can to make sure these off-field issues don't leak onto the field and effect the chemistry of the team.

    The Baltimore offense may struggle with the loss of Ben Grubbs, the problems with Flacco and Rice, and a receiving corps that just seems like it's missing one piece. But if the offense gets going, Rice can and will run through opposing players.

    Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are the best of the receivers, and tight end Ed Dickson is making a name for himself as well.

    The defense will continue to show up and make itself known week in and week out; Ray Lewis and Ed Reed won't let it falter.

    The scheduling gods didn't do either team a favor, making them play each other twice in three weeks. The series will be tough, but fans should expect at least a regular-season split.

Cleveland Browns: Weeks 12 and 17

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    While it’s uncertain which way the Browns will go in the draft, as it sits right now they have practically no offense and won’t present much of a challenge to the Steelers, no matter where the game is played.

    Cleveland will rely on its defense to hold the Steelers to under 14 points, or risk venturing into “overcoming an insurmountable lead” territory. If the season started today, Greg Little is the main offensive weapon and the backfield consists of oft-injured running backs. No wonder Colt McCoy is taking so much flak. The cupboard is bare.

    But Pittsburgh will have to be wary of the Browns. The Steelers won’t want to get complacent and play to the level of their competition. Avoiding injuries will also be key to the Steelers, as Ben Roethlisbeger suffered a high-ankle sprain and Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL when playing the Browns last year. All in all, these two games should be two easy wins.

San Diego Chargers: Week 14

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    San Diego is coming off a down year. The Chargers lost the AFC West to Tim Tebow and had their star receiver leave for Tampa Bay.The team still has Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates, a defense that is statically good, and Ryan Matthews to run the ball.

    Unfortunately, they also have Norv Turner as the head coach and have been fairly inconsistent with Turner at the helm.

    After an up-and-down season that ended with an 8-8 finish, the team should have its head screwed on straight to make up for last season, but you never know with the Chargers.

    Rivers should improve from a fairly pedestrian 2011 season and return to past form, but the questions about his receiving corps are still there.

    San Diego is a tough team to figure, as they go on various streaks of winning and losing throughout the year. But with a cross-country trip to Pittsburgh, it won't go the Chargers way this time.

    A Steelers victory.

Dallas Cowboys: Week 15

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    A trip to Dallas may prove to be a problem for the Steelers. The Cowboys have an offense with playmakers.

    Tony Romo is coming off a 4,000-plus yard passing season in which he threw for 31 touchdowns, and he can probably do it again. With receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, tight end Jason Witten and a talented corps of running backs, the Dallas passing game should do well in 2012.

    After having a breakout year, second-year back DeMarco Murray appears to have earned the starting job from Felix Jones.

    The Cowboy defense finished in the Top 10 against the rush, but only 23rd against the pass. That will need to be fixed if they want to beat Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. DeMarcus Ware is still there and will provide an excellent pass rush, and the addition of corner Brandon Carr should help shore up the secondary a bit.

    This game will be close, but the Steelers are the better team on paper.