5 Must-Watch Matchups on Pittsburgh Steelers' 2014 Schedule

Andrew WatkinsCorrespondent IApril 24, 2014

5 Must-Watch Matchups on Pittsburgh Steelers' 2014 Schedule

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    Gene J. Puskar

    The recent release of the NFL’s 2014 slate of games has Pittsburgh Steelers fans daydreaming of Sunday afternoons, tailgates, playoff berths and even a seventh Lombardi Trophy.

    With 16 games on tap, though, they aren’t all created equal. Whether it’s a contest with an old teammate, a division foe or even one against a budding superstar, certain games carry an added level of intrigue.

    While the following games aren’t all equal in regards to a potential playoff berth, they are among the must-see matchups awaiting Pittsburgh this coming season.

Week 2: Thursday, Sept. 11 at Baltimore Ravens

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    This contest is of interest for numerous reasons.

    For one, the games between these two long-time adversaries are always excellent. In fact, eight of the past 10 meetings between Pittsburgh and Baltimore have been decided by a touchdown or less.

    Both teams underwhelmed in 2013. Each club finished 8-8, meaning that the usual also-ran Cincinnati Bengals took home the AFC North crown for the first time since 2009. Both the Steelers and the Ravens should be eager to prove that they’re the true class of the division as the season gets underway.

    The game will also be played on a Thursday. Both squads will be coming off their season openers on just three days rest. Whichever team is able to shake off any early season rust and soreness should have a leg up in the quest for the division title.

Week 3: Sunday, September 21 at Carolina Panthers

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    The Steelers’ first out-of-conference game in 2014 could also prove to be one of their toughest, and that’s regardless of conference alignment.

    There may not be a tougher front seven than the one awaiting the Steelers in Charlotte. How the offense, especially the line, performs against the likes of Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and Luke Kuechly should be a great early indicator of where they’re at in '14.

    Contrarily, whether or not Pittsburgh’s defense can contain the ever-improving Cam Newton will give the team a feel for how it stacks up against the growing list of dual-threat quarterbacks. Its last experience against such a player came in 2012 against then-rookie Robert Griffin III.

    One final element of intrigue heading into this game is in regards to two players who swapped teams this offseason. Mike Mitchell and Jerricho Cotchery figure to see the field plenty for Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, and each man should be ultramotivated to take it to their former squad.

Week 5: Sunday, October 5 at Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a must-see matchup. After all, these two squads were good for just 12 wins in 32 tries last season.

    It’s exactly that, though, which makes this game such an interesting one for Pittsburgh fans. The Steelers’ Achilles' heel over the past few seasons has been losing games they’re expected to win.

    On paper, the Steelers head into this game with a decided advantage, but the same was said last season about matchups with the Titans, the Vikings and the Raiders.

    Regardless of their record, the Jaguars always get up to play Pittsburgh. In fact, Jacksonville holds an 11-10 advantage over their former AFC Central rivals.

    If the Steelers can emerge victorious from this early season trap game, it should help instill some confidence and lessen the belief that this team plays down to its competition.

Week 13: Sunday, November 30 vs. New Orleans Saints

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    As the '14 season begins to wind down, the challenges only heat up for the Steelers. In fact, four of their final five games are against playoff teams from '13.

    New Orleans, though, represents the only opponent in that stretch that managed a victory in last season’s playoffs. The Saints also figure to be the highest-scoring offense Pittsburgh will see all season.

    Now, asking the Steelers to shut down the NFL’s first and only perennial 5,000-yard passer in Drew Brees is unrealistic. How well the team does to contain the Purdue product, though, should be the best indicator of where a secondary expected to feature several new faces is at in '14.

    Another element of intrigue in this contest will be how former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis performs against two-time Steelers MVP Antonio Brown. What former Saint Lance Moore has in store for his old teammates is of interest as well.

Week 17: Sunday, December 28 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gene J. Puskar

    This contest being a must-watch does come with a disclaimer. Being a Week 17 game, it’s entirely possible that a playoff berth for either team will be secured or out of the question.

    Recent history, however, suggests that playoff seeding or even an AFC North title could be at stake in this game. If so, it instantly becomes one of the season’s biggest games.

    Though the Bengals have put together perhaps the greatest stretch in franchise history with three straight playoff campaigns, they cannot seem to overcome their old foe in the Steelers. In fact, Pittsburgh holds a 6-2 advantage over Cincinnati since 2010.

    You can rest assured that Cincinnati would relish the opportunity to knock Pittsburgh out of the playoff race in Week 17. The same goes for a Steelers team sure to be bitter about Cincinnati defending a division crown that’s typically belonged to them.