When will the Steelers next step onto Heinz Field?
We know the who and the where of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 schedule. We just don't know the when.
There's a chance the Steelers' home game against the Ravens could be the Thursday-night season opener on Sept. 5.
The AFC North and AFC East pair up in 2013, which sends the Steelers on the road to play the New England Patriots and New York Jets. They'll have home games against the Buffalo Bills and welcome Mike Wallace back to Heinz Field when they face the Miami Dolphins.
A trip to London to play the Minnesota Vikings highlights the Steelers' inter-conference slate. That's officially a road game for the Steelers. They also have a road game against the Green Bay Packers and play the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions at home.
If it's worth showing in prime time, then it's worth predicting.
Not only will we predict the Steelers' wins and losses next season, we'll also predict the schedule. We'll predict the dates, times and results of each game and reveal a logistical quirk that could affect the schedule in a favorable way for the Steelers.
The Ravens and Steelers will get the 2013 season off to a smashmouth start at Heinz Field.
Although the Super Bowl champion has hosted the Thursday-night season opener every year since 2004, that tradition won't continue this year.
The Ravens can't play at home on Sept. 5 because the Orioles have a home game that night, and the teams share parking facilities. The Orioles were unwilling to move their game because they'll play on the road the night before.
The Ravens game couldn't be moved to Sept. 4 because it would conflict with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hoshanah.
Even though the Ravens can't choose who they play in the opener, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says he wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens had a little input considering they've been deprived of the opportunity to run out onto the field for the first time as Super Bowl champs in front of their fans in prime time.
If that's the case, perhaps the NFL tells the Ravens they can choose between Denver and Pittsburgh. Chicago would be just another road game for the Ravens, and probably wouldn't get the same TV ratings as a Ravens-Steelers or Ravens-Broncos game.
Denver holds happy memories for the Ravens. They upset the Broncos there in the AFC divisional playoffs.
But the Ravens have beaten the Steelers at Pittsburgh in prime time two years in a row, and Steelers team MVP Heath Miller might not be ready to start in Week 1 after tearing multiple ligaments in his knee on Dec. 23.
The Ravens might figure that the Steelers won't be at full strength in the opener. If they can take advantage of that with a victory, they'd be 1-0 with their trip to Pittsburgh out of the way.
The NFL usually announces the teams playing in the Thursday-night opener before the full schedule comes out.
Whoever they play in Week 1, the Steelers are almost certain to open at home for the first time since 2010 because they can't play at home the next three Sundays. The Pirates have home games Sept. 15 and Sept. 22, and the Steelers play the Vikings in London Sept. 29. That's considered a road game.
So look for the countdown to the 2013 Steelers season to be three days shorter.
The Steelers might be without Miller in the season opener, but the Ravens will be without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Danell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams and Anquan Boldin. The Ravens did add Elvis Dumervil, but the sea of Terrible Towels on the prime time stage will be too much for the re-tooled Ravens to overcome.
The strength of the Steelers' schedule ranks 22nd in the NFL based on 2012 records, according to NFL.com.
Tell that to the Steelers after they play the 2011 and 2012 AFC Championship Game combatants in the first two weeks of the season.
The Steelers visit Gillette Stadium for the first time since 2008, when they had beaten the Patriots 33-10 to establish themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders and went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.
This game would be a candidate for a prime-time slot, but teams can't play more than six prime-time games in a season, according to the Denver Post. The NFL probably doesn't want to use up two Steelers prime-time games in September.
The NFL instead will make this a national late game on Sunday afternoon. Since the Patriots defeated the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, all eight Steelers-Patriots games have been in prime time or late afternoon.
The Steelers' victory over the Patriots at Foxborough, Mass., in 2008 came against Matt Cassel. Tom Brady injured his knee in Week 1 and missed the rest of the season. The Steelers haven't beaten a Brady-led Patriots team at Gillette Stadium, and they won't in 2013
This is the week before London.
Since at least 2009, every team that played in London has had a Sunday home game the week before. The Steelers can't be home on Sept. 22 because the Pirates play the last game of an 11-game homestand.
While the Steelers and Pirates don't share a stadium, they tend to avoid playing at the same time because Heinz Field and PNC Park are right next to each other.
The Pirates play at 1 p.m. Even if the Steelers play at night, there would be a risk of a conflict since baseball doesn't have a clock and there's no guarantee the Pirates game would end in a timely fashion.
So while it seems the NFL tries to give teams a home game a full seven days before they play in London, the best the schedule makers can do for the Steelers is send them on their shortest possible road trip.
Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey won't be around to fumble twice like they did last year in Cleveland. The Steelers haven't lost at Cleveland in two straight seasons since 1992 and 1993. As long as they hang onto the ball, the Steelers won't lose again in Cleveland next season.
The Steelers will play their first regular-season game outside the United States in franchise history.
It's considered a home game for the Vikings, so the Steelers still will play eight regular-season games at Heinz Field.
The NFL has played one regular-season game in London each year since 2007. Considering the marketing hook between Big Ben the quarterback and Big Ben the clock, it's amazing the Steelers didn't hear London calling sooner.
It will be interesting to see how many Terrible Towels wave at Wembley Stadium.
The Steelers might not have to deal with the Vikings' home crowd, but they will have to deal with Adrian Peterson. If the No. 2 run defense in the league doesn't drop off significantly, it should be up to the task.
The Vikings already could be embroiled in a quarterback controversy with Matt Cassel looking over Christian Ponder's shoulder.
Since we know the Steelers are going to London in Week 4, we also know Week 5 is their bye week. Teams that play in London get their bye the following week to recover from the overseas trip.
The rest of this 2013 Steelers schedule is a pure prediction.
Mike Wallace's return to Heinz Field is prime-time material. This will be an NBC Sunday Night Football game. If the Steelers don't play the Thursday-night season opener against the Ravens, don't be surprised if this game is played on Sunday night in Week 1.
This game will get better ratings than whatever Major League Baseball playoff game it goes up against.
The Dolphins caught a break not having to play at Pittsburgh in December. However, Heinz Field will be especially amped up with Wallace on the field. He's likely to get a mixed reaction at best from Steelers fans.
This isn't the first time a former Steelers wide receiver plays at Pittsburgh the year after he leaves. Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes and the Jets played at Heinz Field in 2010. That game wasn't until December, and it was a late-afternoon game.
With Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four weeks of 2010, the NFL scheduled all the Steelers' prime-time games after Week 7, although the league didn't admit publicly that Roethlisberger's suspension was the reason.
The circumstances of Holmes' departure were a little different. The Steelers dumped him for a fifth-round draft pick. Wallace left on his own, and Steelers fans won't forget that.
The Steelers get the Bengals in Week 7 for the second straight season. This time, their October matchup is at Pittsburgh rather than Cincinnati.
This game completes the first half of the Steelers' AFC North schedule. They will have seen every divisional opponent once in the first half of the season.
The Bengals organization finally seems to be doing things the right way, making the playoffs two years in a row for the first time in 30 years. The Steelers won't be good enough to start the season 5-1, and the Bengals win in Pittsburgh for two straight seasons for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
This would be the Steelers' second Thursday-night game of 2013.
Both teams then played a Thursday game later in the season, so it seems the teams that play the season opener are subject to a second Thursday game because they still only have to deal with one short week.
Last year, the Steelers played their Thursday game at Tennessee, a short road trip following a home game against the Eagles. This year, if our shot at schedule-making is on the mark, the Steelers' Thursday turnaround is a relatively short road trip (one they made into a day trip after Hurricane Sandy last season) following a home game.
Despite the NFL's attempt to make it easy on them last year, the Steelers didn't respond well to the short week. They lost to the Tennessee Titans, who were 1-4 at the time and finished 6-10.
However, there isn't much evidence so far that the Steelers will be much better than they were last year. Look for an upset.
The rematch of Super Bowl XLV goes prime time.
This will be the Steelers' first visit to Lambeau Field since 2005. Charlie Batch started for an injured Ben Roethlisberger in a 20-10 Steelers win.
Assuming Roethlisberger isn't hurt, and that's no small assumption, he will make his Lambeau Field debut.
He won't be able to prevent the Steelers from dropping to .500.
The bad news is the Steelers are 4-4 heading into Week 10 in our predicted schedule.
The good news is they would have only two 2012 playoff teams left to play if we made the schedule and five remaining home games in the last eight weeks.
Regardless of how this schedule prediction turns out, the Steelers figure to be home a lot in the second half of the season after playing those three straight road games, including the one at London, in September. That Pirates homestand and the London game will put the Steelers on the road a lot early in the season.
Steelers fans will step away from Pittsburgh's many bridges when the Steelers end their three-game losing streak, beating the Browns at Pittsburgh for the 10th straight time.
The Steelers play at Oakland two years in a row for the first time since 1973 and 1974. They were at Oakland twice in 1976 when they played there in the regular season and in the playoffs.
In 1994, the Steelers played the Raiders in Los Angeles, then played them at Oakland in 1995 when the Raiders moved back there.
Why are the Steelers going to Oakland again and not Pittsburgh? Last year, they played all the AFC West teams, like they did in 2009, and it was their turn to go to Oakland.
In 2013, the Steelers play the Raiders on a different rotation as part of the "third-place" portion of their schedule. It just so happens they play it in Oakland.
Based on patterns from previous seasons, NFL flexible scheduling could begin this week. If not, it almost certainly will start in Week 12. Flexible scheduling allows the NFL to switch a Sunday afternoon game to Sunday night if it would make a better prime-time matchup.
Matt Flynn, who will enter 2013 with just two starts under his belt, won't stop the Steelers from winning on the West Coast for the first time since they beat the Chargers in 2005.
You'd think the Steelers and Tennessee Titans were still AFC Central rivals.
The teams meet for the sixth-straight season in 2013 as the Steelers take on their fellow third-place finisher from the AFC South.
The Titans are another team asking for a quarterback controversy. They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up Jake Locker, who threw 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 11 starts last season.
Two of the NFL's pillar franchises meet on the late-afternoon stage.
The Chicago Bears last played at Pittsburgh during a snowstorm in 2005. This will be just their sixth trip to Pittsburgh since 1975.
The hiring of head coach Marc Trestman from the Canadian Football League is a little bit of a head-scratcher, but the Bears could be on the cusp of making the playoffs. They were 10-6 last season with the NFL's No. 5 defense.
A home game against an NFC team is usually the kind of game Steelers fans assume they'll win when the schedule comes out, but can we assume anything considering the current state of the Steelers?
Look for the Steelers to lose an inter-conference game at home for the first time since they lost to the New York Giants in 2008. It would be the Bears' first win in Pittsburgh since 1989.
NBC already has one Steelers-Ravens game in this predicted schedule. ESPN will get this one as the Steelers play their only Monday-night game of the season.
As currently constituted, the Steelers don't seem good enough to sweep the Ravens for the first time since 2008.
The Steelers have beaten the Ravens the last three times they've played them at Baltimore in December. That streak ends this year.
No matter how badly their free-agent losses hurt them, the Ravens will muster a split with the Steelers.
Fans again will be lining the bridges in Pittsburgh after the Steelers' two-game losing streak leaves them at 7-6 and most likely fighting for their playoff lives.
Fortunately, the Steelers enter a soft spot in our predicted schedule, with two straight home games against teams that missed the playoffs in 2012.
Joey Harrington was the Lions quarterback the last time they came to Heinz Field. In 2013, they'll have Matthew Stafford calling the signals.
The Lions' biggest splash in free agency has been overrated Reggie Bush.
It's always nice for the Steelers to have a home game against an indoor team in December. Since beating the Steelers at Pittsburgh in 1955 and tying them there in 1959, the Lions have lost their last eight games in Pittsburgh.
They haven't beaten the Steelers anywhere in a non-Thanksgiving game since 1962.
Unlike the Lions, the Bills should be used to the cold weather they're likely to face in Pittsburgh three days before Christmas.
The Bills acquired Kevin Kolb, but don't be surprised if draft prospect Ryan Nassib is under center for the Bills. He'd be playing for head coach Doug Marrone just like he did at Syracuse.
If not Kolb or Nassib, Geno Smith or Matt Barkley could be calling the signals.
Whether it's Kolb or a rookie quarterback, the Steelers defense should have a field day if it's anything close to what it was in 2012.
The Bills haven't won in Pittsburgh since the 1992 AFC divisional playoffs. That was Bill Cowher's first season as coach.
Since divisional games in Week 17 became mandatory in 2010, the Steelers have played only the Browns in the regular-season finale.
That changes this year. The Steelers will close the regular season at Cincinnati for the first time since 2006. In that game, Santonio Holmes scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime in Bill Cowher's last game as coach.
This game won't go quite as well. The Steelers will lose at Cincinnati for the first time since 2009, which was also the last time the Bengals swept the Steelers.
The Steelers' record improves by one game in our predicted schedule. That won't win the AFC North, but it might be good enough to get them into the playoffs. If it does, hopefully they can avoid Tim Tebow.