Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Most Dangerous out-of-Division Games for the Steelers
Pittsburgh lost its chance at a first-round bye and potential home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after getting swept by the Baltimore Ravens last year.
While the division games carry the largest weight on the schedule, the Steelers cannot afford a loss in its "must-win" games and it is imperative that they defeat other AFC playoff contenders.
With that in mind, here are the five most dangerous out-of-division games for the Steelers.
Week 1: Steelers at Broncos
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A rematch of a playoff game on the road is tough enough. A season opener in Denver against the Broncos on Sunday night will be even tougher. Oh yeah, some guy named Peyton Manning will be making his debut as well.
The deck will be stacked against Pittsburgh to start the season.
Broncos' fans, excited to start the season and watch the debut of Manning, will give Denver a huge boost.
Crowd noise has been a factor of Steelers' losses on the road recently, specifically against the New Orleans Saints in 2010.
The Steelers weren't prepared for the noise and they were dominated. Surely they should have learned from this mistake, but they will have a new-look offensive line and the noise could be a big problem, especially if rookies David DeCastro and Mike Adams are both starting.
Besides communication issues, the Steelers will have to defend against Manning without Ryan Clark.
Clark was missed in the playoffs last season as Tim Tebow shredded the Steelers' pass defense. Ryan Mundy, while a quality backup, did not provide the same presence in the secondary as Clark.
Pittsburgh does not want to start the season with a loss, but the opening week trip will be one of the most challenging games of the season.
Week 3: Steelers at Raiders
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Two trips to AFC West opponents in the first three weeks of the season is no easy task, and while the Steelers should handle business against the Oakland Raiders, it could be an early-season stumble.
Pittsburgh is a better team than the Raiders, and they could come out and dominate Oakland as they did in 2010 with a 35-3 victory.
Things do not always happen as expected, however.
In 2009, the Steelers lost their fourth straight game against the Raiders when Bruce Gradkowski completed his third fourth quarter touchdown with only nine seconds left to give Oakland, one of the worst teams in the league, the win.
Both teams have changed for the better since then, most notably with the Raiders adding Carson Palmer at quarterback.
Palmer is very familiar with the Steelers—as they are with him—and will present quite a challenge with the weapons he has in place.
The biggest concern for the Steelers is experiencing fatigue after traveling across the United States. On the plus side, they follow up the Raiders game with a bye, so there will be plenty of time to rest after the third week of the season.
Week 5: Steelers vs. Eagles
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They should. The Eagles have one of the most talented rosters in the league, particularly on offense where there are playmakers all over the field.
Vick is one of the most electric athletes in the league with a rocket arm and a dangerous deep threat in Jackson. This combination will give the Steelers' secondary a big test.
The biggest concern, though, is McCoy.
McCoy established himself as one of the top running backs in the league last season, rushing for over 1,300 yards scoring 20 total touchdowns.
The dual running and receiving threat is very quick and shifty which can cause problems for an aggressive Pittsburgh defense.
McCoy will be a test for a run defense that is not as strong as it has been in the past.
Luckily for the Steelers, this game will be played at Heinz Field.
Week 9: Steelers at Giants
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There will be few out-of-conference games with as much hype as this one: a battle between two of the best quarterbacks from the 2004 draft.
The question is a fair one, but there will be a lot of pressure on both players to perform in this matchup of elite quarterbacks.
It will also be a big game as both teams figure to be Super Bowl contenders again this year.
Though this game isn't in conference, a win can mean a better seed in the playoffs and an easier route to the Super Bowl.
This road test will be one of the toughest for the Steelers in 2012.
Week 14: Steelers vs. Chargers
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The Steelers have owned the San Diego Chargers in recent years, particularly playing at a cold Heinz Field.
San Diego will visit Pittsburgh in December this season and the Steelers should have a strong edge with the weather, but while they have had success at home against the Chargers in the past, this is a new season.
The Chargers are perennially one of the most talented teams in the league, led by Philip Rivers, and should be back in the playoff picture this year.
This will be the Steelers' last non-division in-conference game of the season and they cannot afford to lose to another AFC contender.
Of greater concern is this game comes a week after playing the Ravens—in Baltimore—in what should be a typical brutal affair.
That game could put the Steelers in control of the AFC North and win or lose, they can expect to be beat up entering the final quarter of the season.
A loss to San Diego would not be what Pittsburgh wants as they will be looking to build momentum for a playoff run.
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