8 Ways the 2012 NFL Schedule Helps the Pittsburgh Steelers

Mike Batista@Steel_TweetsContributor IJuly 8, 2012

8 Ways the 2012 NFL Schedule Helps the Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Your itinerary for the fall, a.k.a. the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 schedule, has been taped to the fridge since it came out in April.

    You've studied it. You've planned birthday parties, vacations and weddings around it.

    If we examine the Steelers' schedule closely enough, we can find some nice little favors the schedule makers did for the Steelers.

    This isn't necessarily about the strength of the Steelers' schedule, but rather the way it's arranged.

Peyton Manning in Week 1

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    Mike Klis of the Denver Post, via NFL.com, says Peyton Manning's arm strength looked like it was 85-90 percent during Broncos' organized team activities.

    That's all well and good. But the fact remains Manning will have gone 20 months and one day without playing real football when he faces the Steelers in the season opener on Sept. 9. Plus, he's 36.

    Something tells me the Steelers' defenders will have a chip on their shoulder after what happened at Denver in January, even though their beef isn't with Manning.

    Demaryius Thomas might be covered a little more closely, and Manning won't get the velvet-rope treatment the Steelers' pass rush gave Tim Tebow eight months earlier.

    The Steelers are getting Manning at a good time. He'll likely have some kinks to work out in Week 1 and be more dangerous later in the season.

Tim Tebow in Pittsburgh

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    Tim Tebow punking the Steelers in January was like Home Alone, with the Steelers playing the bungling burglars comically foiled by the little kid.

    When the New York Jets visit the Steelers in Week 2 on Sept. 16, Tebow won't be able to line the stairs with marbles and wait for the Steelers to go tumbling down, because he's been sent to his room.

    That room is the Jets' sideline. Tebow can't hurt the Steelers wearing a baseball cap while Mark Sanchez calls the signals.

    If an injury to Sanchez thrusts Tebow into the starting job, at least the bratty Tebow won't be able to use the comforts of home to put out booby traps for the Steelers.

    Either way, Tebow will be targeted in Pittsburgh. He'll either be a sitting duck on the sidelines with the taunts of Steelers fans cascading down on him, or he'll be chased around by a healthy LaMarr Woodley.

    In the eyes of the religious Tebow, those Terrible Towels will wave like the fires of hell.

Bye Week

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    The Steelers play a Thursday-night game for the seventh straight season.

    This will be the first year during that stretch that they have a bye week to rest up for the challenging Sunday-Thursday leg of their schedule.

    After their Week 4 bye, the Steelers host the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 7. Four days later, they go to Tennessee to play the Titans.

    It's been pointed out before in this space that Thursday can be an inauspicious day for the Steelers, and that was before Ben Roethlisberger's high-ankle sprain on a Thursday night in 2011.

    Hopefully the bye week will help this year.

Rookie Quarterbacks

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    If Robert Griffin III is the Redskins' starter and Brandon Weeden is the Browns' starter, the Steelers will have two rookie quarterbacks on their schedule in 2012.

    Since Dick LeBeau rejoined the Steelers as defensive coordinator in 2004, the Steelers are 14-1 against rookie quarterbacks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN.com.

    That one loss came to Troy Smith, who the Steelers recently cut, and that was in the meaningless regular-season finale in 2007 when Smith started for the Ravens.

    RG3 and the Redskins come to Heinz Field in Week 8 on Oct. 28. Even if Griffin instantly proves he's worth the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, it's tough for any opposing quarterback to win at Heinz Field. Only Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have done it since the beginning of 2010.

    Weeden will be 29 by the time the Steelers go to Cleveland on Nov. 25 and the Browns go to Pittsburgh on Dec. 30. So he might not be as wide-eyed as your typical rookie quarterback.

    Still, this is the NFL, not the Big XII.

Todd Haley's Old Team Comes to Pittsburgh

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    You think Todd Haley has Nov. 12 circled on his calendar?

    The Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs on a Monday night in Week 10.

    Haley might have some extra motivation to draw up a game plan that beats the team that fired him last season.

    Haley led a Cardinals offense that gave the Steelers defense all it could handle in Super Bowl XLIII. The following season, he coached the Chiefs to an upset of the Steelers, contributing to the Steelers' failure to make the playoffs.

    Now Haley is on the Steelers' side, and on Nov. 12 he won't let the Steelers look ahead to the Ravens six days later.

San Diego Comes to Pittsburgh in December

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    Can anyone remember the last time the San Diego Chargers won in Pittsburgh?

    Maybe you just don't want to remember.

    It was the 1994 AFC Championship game. The visitors from sunny San Diego lucked out with a 58-degree day in January and upset the Steelers 17-13.

    The Chargers make their seventh visit to Pittsburgh since that game on Dec. 9. There's no guarantee of winter weather, but a mercury dip below 40 might be enough to get Chargers players huddled around the heated benches.

    The lowest temperature they played in last season was 42 degrees, and they lost 31-20 in Chicago on the way to going 8-8.

    Even if weather isn't a factor in this Week 14 matchup, this is a West Coast team playing a 1 p.m. game in the Eastern time zone. The Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks are a combined 32-57 in those games since 2007, according to Cold Hard Football Facts.

    If the Chargers can adjust their body clocks, they'll still have to overcome the hurdles of having a mediocre coach and a quarterback who's never won anything in the NFL.

Last Two Games at Home

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    The Steelers will finish the regular season with two home games for the first time since 1999, two years before Heinz Field opened.

    The Bengals come to Pittsburgh Dec. 23 and the Browns visit Dec. 30. The Broncos, Lions and Seahawks are the only other NFL teams with home games in weeks 16 and 17.

    If the Steelers and Ravens again battle for AFC North supremacy, and they split their games on Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, it could come down to division record.

    That would put the Steelers in a good position with two home division games in hand in the final two weeks.

Tougher Schedule for Ravens

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    Last but certainly not least, let's take a look at the Ravens.

    At the moment, Baltimore has the upper hand in the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. The Ravens swept the Steelers last season for the first time since 2006 and won the AFC North.

    Now they get to play a first-place schedule.

    The Ravens host the New England Patriots in Week 3 and are at Houston in Week 7. Neither of those 2011 division winners is on the Steelers' schedule.

    Between their two showdowns against the Steelers on Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, the Ravens fly to San Diego while the Steelers go up the road to Cleveland.

    With less travel time, the Steelers will have a few more hours than the Ravens to recover from the first clash and prepare for the rematch.

    The Ravens' 23-20 victory in Pittsburgh last season proved that any edge between these teams matters.

    Then, in Weeks 15 and 16, the Ravens get the Manning brothers.

    On Dec. 16, they host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. If there's any rust in Week 1 against the Steelers, Manning will have time to work it off by the time he goes to Baltimore.

    Eli Manning and the defending champion Giants come to Baltimore Dec. 23, another tough task for the Ravens as the Steelers begin their two-game homestand to close out the season.

    In Week 17, the Ravens are at Cincinnati while the Steelers host Cleveland. If the Ravens and Steelers are still fighting for the AFC North title in the final week, the schedule seems to favor the Steelers.