Predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers' Most Important Matchups of 2014 Season
While all NFL teams play 16 regular-season games, not each matchup is equally important.
Of course, division matchups and rivalries draw most of the attention, but they aren’t the only factors that add importance to a game. The timing of a matchup, recent history between opponents and caliber of opponent all play a part.
And thus, each of those aforementioned factors was considered in comprising this list. Some games qualified because Pittsburgh has had a rough go of it with those teams in recent seasons; others qualified because the Steelers haven’t seen them at all.
Each of the following games carries added importance for one reason or another. Read on to find out what they are.
Week 1: Sept. 7 vs. Cleveland Browns
What was once one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries has become merely a shell of its former self since the Browns were reincarnated in 1999. Since then, Pittsburgh holds a 26-5 advantage over Cleveland.
So, why is this matchup one of the more important ones awaiting the Steelers in 2014? Well, the answer is twofold, actually.
For one, each of those previously mentioned losses came in a season where Pittsburgh failed to reach the playoffs. Most recently, the Steelers suffered a 20-14 defeat to the Browns in 2012 after a miserable eight-turnover performance.
Sure, the Steelers could rebound from losing their opener and qualify for the postseason, but recent history doesn’t advocate it. They’ve lost their last three openers, and Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos ended their only playoff appearance in that time swiftly.
Prior to this stretch, Pittsburgh was renowned for its consistency on opening day with eight straight victories. As the last two seasons indicate, getting back to the postseason means starting and finishing strong.
Week 2: Sept. 11 at Baltimore Ravens
After wetting their appetites with division rivals in Week 1, these two foes will get an early look at what the other brings to the table in ’14. That this game will be played on just three days of rest should only add to the animosity between these two heated rivals.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore have been the class of the division over the past decade, with each tallying four division titles since 2004. However, those pesky Bengals had enough of playing second (or third) fiddle in ’13 and snatched the AFC North crown while the Steelers and Ravens struggled their way to matching 8-8 records.
You can rest assured that both Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh are intent on preventing a repeat from the Bengals. Neither coach has had a losing season in their tenures, and non-playoff seasons are not tolerated.
In order for one of these squads to return to glory, though, they’ll first need to vanquish the other. After all, they can’t both reclaim the division title.
Week 8: Oct. 26 vs. Indianapolis Colts
This contest represents the first in-conference playoff foe from ’13 the Steelers will see in the ’14 season. In fact, these new Colts will be in pursuit of their third straight playoff berth by this point in the season.
That means, if the Steelers are to return to the playoffs next season, they’ll be getting a look at one potential adversary. And it’s one they’re almost totally unfamiliar with.
Aside from Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis, this Indianapolis team is entirely different from the one the Steelers last saw in 2011. And much of that can be attributed to Andrew Luck.
Luck has proven more than worthy of all that predraft hype he garnered a few years back. Posting consecutive 11-5 seasons and a remarkable 28-point playoff comeback will do that for a guy.
Two things make this game particularly enticing. The first is whether or not the Steelers are able to build and maintain a lead against a team that has made a living off improbable comebacks.
The other is the matchup between Ben Roethlisberger and Luck. Luck shows a lot of the moxie and grit that Roethlisberger did upon entering the league, and you can bet that he’ll be eager to out-duel the veteran.
Week 11: Nov. 17 at Tennessee Titans
As with the Browns, it seems foolish to put a team that isn’t expect to contend for much of anything on a list of most important games. However, anyone who’s watched the Steelers over the past two seasons knows why this game’s important.
Pittsburgh has squared off with the Titans in each of the past two seasons. They’ve been favored over the Titans in each of the past two seasons. They’ve lost to the Titans in each of the past two seasons. And each loss acted as a precursor for the woes to follow.
No, this game likely won’t have a great impact on the standings. But it will serve as a psyche check for the Steelers. It’s their last chance to impress a national audience. Coming into this game flat, as they have for each of the previous two against their former division foes, would likely be a bad omen for the rest of the ’14 season.
Week 14: Dec. 7 at Cincinnati Bengals
I wrote previously on why Pittsburgh’s Week 17 tilt with Cincinnati could make for must-see television. Of course, much of that is dependent on what, if anything, is at stake by the time that game rolls around.
But, whether or not playoff or conference honors are on the line in that game could depend on this one a few weeks earlier. If the Steelers can topple the Bengals in their first meeting, it could go a long way in making the second irrelevant.
One need look no further than last year’s series between these two for an example of that.
Cincinnati handed Pittsburgh a 20-10 loss in Week 2 to help extend what would eventually become a four-game losing streak. Fast forward some months and the Steelers would return the favor, jumping out to a 21-0 lead and cruising the rest of the way.
Unfortunately, their miserable start to the year rendered the performance moot. If Pittsburgh is to avoid a similar fate in consecutive seasons, it must come at the expense of an emerging contender in the Bengals.