The Pittsburgh Steelers hope to turn things around in 2013 and make it back to the playoffs. To do so however, they will have to navigate a tricky schedule.
The Steelers' season begins on July 26 when the team makes the trip to Latrobe, PA to open training camp. After a disappointing 2012 that saw the team finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs while their division rival hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, there should be a healthy dose of intensity and determination in the air.
Once the season kicks off, there are a few games the Steelers should have circled as must-wins if they want to make it back to the postseason.
Week 2 @ Cincinnati Bengals
This is a must-win game for the Steelers not only because it's their first division game in 2013, but it is also a Monday Night Football game where they can either assert their dominance or show their age to a national audience.
In Week 16 last year, the Bengals put an end to the Steelers hopes of making the playoffs.
Pittsburgh came into the matchup on a two-game losing skid and needed a win to stay afloat in the postseason race.
The Bengals held the Steelers to only 10 points and dropped the Steelers to 7-8 on the year.
There has also been a lot of hype surrounding the Bengals coming into 2013.
Many have predicted them to win the division and for the Steelers to be at the bottom. This game could either solidify that analysis or turn it on its head.
Week 4 @ Minnesota Vikings
While the schedule lists the Steelers as the visiting team for this game, both teams are truly the visitors.
The Steelers and Vikings will travel across the pond and play in Wembley Stadium for this Week 4 matchup.
The reason this is a must-win game for the Steelers is because they need to get out of the gate quickly and finish the first quarter of the season strong.
Minnesota will be a good team again next year. If the Steelers can get a win against them amid all the extra travel and media coverage from the game being in London, that should put the stamp on a solid start to the Steelers' season.
This will also be a litmus test for the Steelers defense in 2013.
Can they handle Adrian Peterson?
If they can, that will really open eyes and silence the doubters that say the defense is getting a little long in the tooth.
The biggest critic of the Steelers' defense has been Warren Sapp over the past few years.
Recently Sapp was at it again when he was asked if the Steelers' defense was too old on NFL Network:
Old and slow? Yes, I would. Because seven of the 11 starters are 28 years or older, and that's around the time, in this league, they go to questioning, you know, 'Where's his legs? Should we look for the backup? And Brett Keisel, bless his soul, No. 99 in your program, No. 1 in your heart, he turns 35 the first month of the year. And three of the four secondary guys there are 32 years old or older.
A win and containing Peterson would go a long way, not only for the Steelers' confidence, but also to silence their doubters.
Week 9 @ New England
This might very well be the most important game on the Steelers' 2013 schedule.
At this point in the season, the Steelers may be on their way to another playoff appearance or they will be clawing to keep pace in the AFC North.
Either way, whenever New England and Pittsburgh meet up, it is a marquee game.
The reason this is the most important regular season game for Pittsburgh though is because no matter where they sit coming into this Week 9 matchup, this game will set the tone for the second half of their season.
They will likely be sitting somewhere in the ballpark of 4-3 coming into this game.
A win on the road in Foxborough could change their fortunes.
This game will also be a good test for the defense, but for the secondary this time.
Cortez Allen has the task of replacing Keenan Lewis and this will be a big test for him and the Steelers' secondary.
If they can contain Tom Brady and the New England passing attack and get a win on the road, Steelers fans should get excited because they might have a playoff team on their hands.
A loss though would mean the rest of the season will be an uphill battle.
Week 14 vs. Miami Dolphins
Most Steelers fans have this game circled because it's the homecoming of Mike Wallace.
Wallace became a star while playing for the Steelers but walked away from the team this offseason during free agency.
Steelers fans hope by this point they know the fate of their team's playoff chances, but it is possible this game will go a long way in deciding if the black and gold have a shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
After all, it was a Week 14 loss to San Diego at home last year that really began to spell the end for the Steelers' postseason chances.
If this year is going to be different from last, the Steelers need a win over the Dolphins to get momentum on their side as they go down the home stretch.
A win against the Dolphins at home could give the Steelers the boost they need to make the postseason. The boost they didn't receive last year that cost them their playoff chances.