Following a season in which the Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC championship, there will be a ton of excitement to see if they can return to the Super Bowl.
After the 2011 schedule was released Tuesday evening, Steelers fans are probably feeling pretty confident about the upcoming season.
Pittsburgh only has six games against 2010 playoff teams with five of those coming prior to their Week 11 bye week.
A strong finish to the season could seal a high seed for the Steelers and lay the path for a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
With that said, here is the good, bad and interesting of the 2011 match-ups.
Now for some specific points.
The Steelers play the Ravens twice in the first nine weeks of the season, which should be a benefit to both teams.
The traditionally brutal games between these two teams can physically and emotionally exhaust the Steelers leaving them battered and bruised. However, playing the games early in the season will mean the players are fresher and should be able to recover from such demanding games.
Seattle also has to travel across the country for a 1:00 pm kickoff at Heinz Field which will greatly benefit the Steelers.
Since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, the Steelers have started each season 6-2. To accomplish a strong start with a demanding early schedule would position the Steelers well to begin the season.
This goes hand-in-hand with the end of season schedule where the Steelers play only one playoff team from 2010 in their final seven games.
Pittsburgh, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, have dominated the Bengals and Browns in recent years and the Steelers play each team twice down the stretch, including their season finale in Cleveland.
It helps set the Steelers up for a strong finish, along with a road Monday night game at San Francisco and a home game against St. Louis.
Just as Tomlin’s teams have started strong, they have also finished the season with a 3-1 record in three of his four seasons, with the lone exception being his first year when he admittedly worked his team too hard in training camp.
The Steelers also find themselves with only two back-to-back road games, but the second has a bye between the road games. They have three back-to-back home games on the schedule.
Though the Steelers have started strongly every year under Tomlin, two games against Baltimore and matchups with Indianapolis and New England could put the Steelers in an early hole in the AFC playoff race.
Pittsburgh’s secondary is in dire need of repair and they may not be able to find a quick fix for this season.
Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford are both growing as quarterbacks and could have breakout passing seasons as well, which could lead them closer to “elite” status.
Speaking of Flacco and the Ravens, kicking off the season against Baltimore will instantly give either the Steelers or Ravens a huge edge in the AFC North and without a late season matchup, control of the division could be had by the first week of November.
The short week against division rivals could level the playing field for the underdogs.
Pittsburgh will also have a short week after playing on a Monday night game against San Francisco on December 19th as they have to travel back home for a December 24th game against St. Louis.
Never did I expect to see the Steelers open their season against the Ravens and not play them in December when the divisions are usually decided.
The early season match-ups should be equally as important as if they were late season games, but will leave more room for error.
What the scheduling does do is take some intrigue and spice from the games.
There is no more intense rivalry in the league right now (save me the Patriots-Jets talk) and the NFL will not showcase these tough, hard-hitting teams in the cold of December when games matter most. It was a very curious move.
But the more interesting schedule quirk comes between Week three and Week six.
Never have I seen a Steelers schedule contain four straight games against common divisional opponents.
So between September 25th and October 16th bring on the AFC South gauntlet.
Not only is it odd for the Steelers, but also for the AFC South as the Steelers will make an early impact on that divisional race.
How do you feel about the Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 schedule?
What do you like about it? What worries you? How do you feel about the AFC South gauntlet? Please comment below.
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