Final Win-Loss Predictions for Pittsburgh Steelers' 2017 Schedule
The Pittsburgh Steelers kick off their 2017 regular season on Saturday when they travel to Cleveland to face the Browns. The Steelers are coming off an 11-5 finish to their 2016 efforts, ones that led the team all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
With their roster (and those of their opponents') mostly set now that the 53-man roster cuts have been completed, let's take a look at the Steelers schedule for the 2017 season and predict which will be wins and which will be losses.
Week 1: at Cleveland Browns
Though the Steelers have lost to the Cleveland Browns only five times since 2000 (most recently in 2014), this year's version of their divisional rival might not be so easy to knock off.
Their defense might just be the most talented and deep Cleveland has had since returning to the league in 1999, thanks to a combination of savvy drafting and player acquisition as well as the hiring of Gregg Williams this year to serve as defensive coordinator. The result, at least, was the Browns winning all four preseason and holding their opponents to 29 points.
Yes, the regular season is different than the preseason. But Cleveland's performance during the summer at least implies the Steelers may have to put up more of a fight against the Browns this year.
Further, the combination of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant and running back Le'Veon Bell have not been on the field together since 2015, with Bell holding out the entire summer and Bryant spending all of 2016 suspended. There may be some rust there that also keeps the Steelers' point total down.
Still, the Steelers should emerge with a close win in a low-scoring game. At the very least, a rusty Steelers offense remains at an advantage over Cleveland's, which features a slew of young players that includes rookie DeShone Kizer at quarterback.
Week 2: vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Steelers have their first home game of the season in Week 2, when they play host to the Minnesota Vikings. A year ago, the Vikings started their season 5-0 but managed only three more victories following their Week 6 bye. Their defense primarily carried them and should again be their calling card in 2017.
Pittsburgh's offense should be able to get the better of the Vikings defense, particularly at home. With the Cleveland game—and the first opportunity to tune up the band—behind them, the Roethlisberger-led group should establish a rhythm, one that Sam Bradford's Vikings crew won't be able to match.
The Steelers defense, particularly the secondary, looks to be a weakness of the squad in 2017, particularly early. But the Vikings weren't a particularly high-scoring crew a season ago, and even the addition of dynamic rookie running back Dalvin Cook won't be enough to seriously threaten the Steelers' chances for victory.
Week 3: at Chicago Bears
By Week 3, the Chicago Bears could already have a quarterback controversy on their hands if starter Mike Glennon struggles, something that could prompt rookie Mitchell Trubisky to take over by the time the Steelers come to town. But regardless of which quarterback the Bears put forth, the Steelers look to have an overwhelming advantage.
A season ago, the Bears did not do a good job of either scoring points or preventing their opponents from doing so. And though Chicago has tried to make upgrades on both sides of the ball, it may not have been enough to make the most of this home contest.
For all their faults, Pittsburgh's offense and defense both are more confident, experienced and well-oiled than their Chicago counterparts. Thus, the Steelers should be able to manage a road win as long as they avoid a common pitfall in the Mike Tomlin era—writing off inferior opponents and being handed a surprise loss.
Week 4: vs. Baltimore Ravens
Though the Ravens have become the Steelers' most hated divisional rivals over the years and playing them in Baltimore is never an easy task, Week 4 may present them with one of their least challenging meetings in their series.
Starting Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco missed more than a month of training camp and all of the preseason with a back injury. Though he's back to throwing the football and is expected to be ready for Week 1, that missed time in combination with a Ravens offense that, on paper, looks thoroughly underwhelming may cause some early-season stumbles.
While the Ravens have a strong defense, particularly up front, that may not matter as long as the Steelers' starting offensive line is both healthy and performing as well as it did a year ago. And Pittsburgh's defensive weaknesses could easily be mitigated by Baltimore's weak, work-in-progress offensive line and a cobbled-together group of skill-position players who may still be trying to build chemistry with Flacco.
The Ravens appear on the verge of a rebuild, while the Steelers have a firmly established foundation all along their roster. That should help the Steelers have a significant edge over the Ravens despite being on the road.
Week 5: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars should have amassed more than 11 wins in the last three seasons. They have done a solid job of adding talent on both offense and defense, and in April the team snagged the top running back in the draft, Leonard Fournette. But the quarterback position has been one of such weakness that the strength of the roster around it has made little to no difference.
After some summertime wavering, head coach Doug Marrone has opted to stick with Blake Bortles as their starting QB, with Chad Henne his backup. And no matter who has command of the job by Week 5, neither will not manage to create enough points for Jacksonville to win on the road against the Steelers.
A Fournette-heavy offensive game plan might be the Jaguars' best bet for 2017, but it also makes them easy to game-plan against. All the Steelers need to do is cut off the run game, force Bortles to throw and then maintain the upper hand when the ball is in their possession. The Jaguars should not be much of a test for Pittsburgh in Week 5.
Week 6: at Kansas City Chiefs
Last season, the Steelers faced the Kansas City Chiefs twice. The first, a Week 4 home game, resulted in a 43-14 win. The second, in the divisional round of the playoffs, was a far closer affair, though the Steelers emerged victorious, 18-16. Still, Pittsburgh scored no touchdowns and required six field goals to win.
The Chiefs were AFC West champions last year with a 12-4 record and could easily walk away with the divisional crown again in 2017. They also boast a difficult stadium for visitors to play in, and the Steelers aren't quite the most prolific road warriors. In the 14 regular-season games Roethlisberger started a season ago, he managed a 10-4 record, but three of those four losses were on the road. Though he had 29 touchdown passes, only nine came in road games.
The combination of the Chiefs' formidable roster, their significant home-field advantage and the Steelers' struggle to perform on a consistently high level when on the road all seem to point to one outcome—Pittsburgh being handed their first loss of the season in Week 6.
Week 7: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
From 2011 through 2015, the Cincinnati Bengals were one of the most formidable teams in the AFC North, keeping pace with the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, with five consecutive playoff berths clinched and twice being the top squad in the division. But that all fell apart in 2016, when the Bengals missed the postseason and ended the year with a 6-9-1 record.
Quarterback Andy Dalton's offensive line has gotten progressively worse talentwise, and with that, his production has plummeted. Despite still having A.J. Green as his primary receiver, he still only threw 18 touchdowns a season ago, was picked off eight times and took a brutal 41 sacks.
It's that pressure on Dalton and his weak line that will present the Steelers with the greatest advantage in Week 7. Pittsburgh's front seven, led by outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree and defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, should have no trouble blowing through the Bengals line, both disrupting Dalton's pass attempts as well as Cincinnati's ability to run the ball.
Week 8: at Detroit Lions
The Steelers see their first prime-time action of the year in Week 8, when the team takes on the Detroit Lions on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
While the Lions have proved capable of scoring points thanks to quarterback Matthew Stafford's ability to spread the ball around and should have an improved running game with Ameer Abdullah finally healthy, it's Detroit's defense that will be the team's biggest liability this year. It will also be the reason the Steelers leave Detroit with a win.
The Lions have a problem at defensive end, with Kerry Hyder having torn his Achilles tendon during the summer, Armonty Bryant opening the year with a four-game suspension and star Ziggy Ansah only returning to practice this week after spending the summer on the physically unable to perform list. While it's not a stretch to assume that after eight weeks that this group can hit a midseason stride, any struggles will only put further pressure on a secondary that will doubtlessly be tested by Pittsburgh's passing game.
Though the Lions will also be turning the screws on the Steelers secondary, their firepower simply does not match that of Pittsburgh's. With Roethlisberger having Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Le'Veon Bell and Vance McDonald at his disposal, the Detroit defense has a bigger test in this game than does Pittsburgh's. The Steelers should head into their Week 9 bye on a high note.
Week 10: at Indianapolis Colts
Though Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck did not start the regular season on the physically unable to perform list, which would have kept him on the field for at least the first six games, he's still not ready to play in Week 1. It's also anyone's guess when he will finally return after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, which has led to backup Scott Tolzien taking on the starting job for the time being.
If the Tolzien (or rather non-Luck) era stretches into November, there's no doubt the Colts will be in bad shape. After all, even with Luck starting 15 of 16 games a season ago, Indianapolis finished with an 8-8 record. There would also be little doubt that the Steelers could clinch this road victory.
Things become a bit muddier if Luck is back by Week 10 and feels 100 percent healthy. He's the key to the Colts' overall success, and he would have no trouble trying to carry his team on his home field against a challenger in Pittsburgh that should be quite formidable. Still, the Colts have done little to support Luck's development, struggling to surround him with quality receivers or offensive linemen. Comparing the quality of the Colts roster to Pittsburgh's, even with Luck, and it's obvious the Steelers have the overall advantage.
Week 11: vs. Tennessee Titans
The Steelers' second prime-time game of 2017 is a Thursday night meeting with the Tennessee Titans. And on a short week against one of the league's most promising teams, Pittsburgh seems like it is being set up to earn a nationally televised loss.
The Titans and Steelers have a lot in common in that both offenses are capable of making explosive plays both in the air and on the ground. But the Titans have the edge in this game with a defense that should be a bit more consistent against the pass while retaining its top-five marks against the run. It also doesn't hurt that the Titans' defensive coordinator is Dick LeBeau, who spent 11 seasons performing the same duties for the Steelers.
Losing to the Titans in 2017 is nothing to be embarrassed about. Tennessee won nine games a season ago and are the heavy favorites to be AFC South champions now that quarterback Marcus Mariota is fully healed from the broken leg he suffered last December and their run game may prove to be the most formidable in the league.
These two well-matched teams should put on an entertaining contest in Week 11, but the Steelers won't be the ones coming out on top despite having home-field advantage.
Week 12: vs. Green Bay Packers
Without question, the most daunting stretch of the Steelers schedule comes in Weeks 8 through 15, when the team is scheduled to play five prime-time games and then closes things out with a visit by the New England Patriots. And none of these nighttime games will be all that easy, including Week 12 when Pittsburgh plays host to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
This game has all the hallmarks of turning into a shootout. Both the Steelers and Packers have explosive, high-scoring offenses that are augmented by weak secondaries that give up both yards and points. The pressure will be on Roethlisberger and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to pull off near-flawless performances in their efforts toward earning a victory.
But Roethlisberger, for all his strengths, can often be inconsistent and a single mistake against the Packers may be all it takes for the Steelers to lose in a close, points-laden affair. A fourth-quarter red-zone interception just sounds like something Roethlisberger would be more prone to throwing than Rodgers, which is why Green Bay gets the one-point victory.
Week 13: at Cincinnati Bengals
Another week, another prime-time game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who head on the road to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13's Monday Night Football contest.
However, there are historic trends in play that all work in the Steelers' favor, which will lead to Pittsburgh sweeping the Bengals in the 2017 regular season. For one, the Bengals do not fare well in prime-time games during the Andy Dalton era; the Bengals have played 17 such games since 2011 and have come away with only five wins.
Also, the Steelers appear to have the Bengals' number when playing them in Cincinnati. In the Dalton era, Pittsburgh has traveled to Cincinnati seven times and have come away victorious six times. Combining these trends from the past with Dalton's continued statistical decline, his struggles both under the pressure of a pass-rush and a nationally televised audience and an aging Bengals defense, it's hard to imagine the Steelers not heading back to Pittsburgh with a win in Week 13.
Week 14: vs. Baltimore Ravens
Any prime-time meeting between the Steelers and the Ravens is must-see sports television, given the history and rivalry between the two AFC North powerhouses. The problem, though, in 2017 is that the Ravens are not quite the powerhouse they once were, and this will be evident when they travel to Pittsburgh for the Week 14 Sunday Night Football contest.
By this point in the season, the Steelers will have the postseason firmly in their sights. Further, if the Steelers have won all of their in-division games leading up to Week 14, a victory over the Ravens could be the last piece of the puzzle to earn them top honors in the AFC North. These are things not to be taken lightly, given the New England Patriots—and a chance to earn an advantage in playoff seeding—looming in Week 15.
However, that Patriots game could loom large enough that the Steelers lose focus on the task at hand in Week 14. That distraction could allow the Ravens to catch them off guard and lead to a loss. But there are few reasons on paper why the Ravens should have any sort of advantage in this game, which is why the Steelers are being pegged as the victors in this second meeting.
Week 15: vs. New England Patriots
After four straight weeks of playing in prime time (and five night games in seven weeks), the Steelers have to play host to their biggest challengers of the year in Week 15.
Last year, the Steelers met the Patriots twice. The first, a home game during the regular season, saw the Patriots come out ahead, 27-16. The second, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, for the AFC championship, was another Patriots victory, this time by a score of 36-17; New England went on to win Super Bowl LI.
In response, the Steelers spent the offseason trying to revamp their defense to play more man coverage in order to beat the Patriots' surgical passing attack. At the same time, the Patriots added tweaks to their offense in order to better handle teams employing man-to-man against them. Only one will win in their effort, and at this point, it appears that again will be New England.
Pittsburgh's defense spent the summer struggling for reasons that ranged from former starting cornerback (and now New York Giant) Ross Cockrell not being suited for man coverage to injuries suffered by safety Mike Mitchell and rookie cornerback Cam Sutton. And while the hiccups may be ironed out in time for Week 15, it seems more than likely that the Steelers will fall under the wicked spell of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady yet again.
Week 16: at Houston Texans
Though the Steelers' expected Week 15 loss to the New England Patriots won't sit well for many reasons, it does present the opportunity for a major rebound in Week 16 when they travel to Houston.
While the Texans were AFC South champions a year ago, they ended the season with just a 9-7 record. Their defense, which ranked first in yards allowed and 11th in points, helped carry them, but the offense struggled, ranking 28th in points and 29th in yards. And that offense doesn't seem poised to be much more successful in 2017, with Tom Savage serving as the starting quarterback and the potential for rookie Deshaun Watson to take over.
The Texans will have the services of defensive end J.J. Watt after he missed 13 games last year with a back injury, which means Houston's pass rush will certainly improve on its 31 sacks from a season ago. But that defensive front may be the only thing the Texans have going for them this year. Even if that does serve to limit the amount of damage the Steelers offense can do, Pittsburgh should still have better luck moving the football and manage to earn an all-important late-season win.
Week 17: vs. Cleveland Browns
There may be no more surprisingly tough opponent for the Steelers this year than the Cleveland Browns, who may end the 2017 season as the league's most improved team. While the Steelers are projected to win both contests against the Browns, these games should be close, thanks mostly to the prowess of Cleveland's defense. It should not be ruled out that the Browns' young offense could also build appreciable chemistry as the season goes on, making it a threat to Pittsburgh to close out the year.
The Browns could also come away with a win in Week 17 depending on how the standings in the AFC look at the time. If the Steelers have a playoff berth locked down and have no way to improve their seeding, it's possible numerous starters are held out of the game. With Cleveland's starters squaring off against Pittsburgh's second-teamers, there would be an easy path laid for a Browns victory.
But it should also be noted that the Browns and Steelers have faced each other in the regular-season finale eight times since the 2001 season, with the Steelers winning all eight. Not all of those games have featured the Steelers' first-teamers, but yet Cleveland still could not use it to their advantage. That too could be the case this year, even if the Browns' stock is clearly on the upswing.
Season Recap: 12-4 Record
Based on these projections, the Steelers are set to have a 12-4 record in the regular season, one win better than a year ago and more than enough to become AFC North champions and head to the playoffs yet again.
On paper, Pittsburgh has a manageable schedule, though the stretch through the middle and late parts of the season, with five prime-time games (and a bye) in seven weeks will prove to be a significant challenge. That it wraps up with a visit from the Patriots is even more daunting—and it's possible that game gets flexed into a prime-time spot, meaning Pittsburgh could potentially play during the night for five weeks in a row.
These projections also assume that Roethlisberger overcomes the road woes that punctuated his 2016 season. With Bryant back from suspension, Bell ending his holdout, Brown remaining his ever-reliable passing target and an offensive line that remains intact from a year ago, he certainly has the best opportunity to be more consistent on any field, home or away.
But what matters most, of course, is health. A significant injury to a key player, like Roethlisberger or Brown on offense or Mike Mitchell or Ryan Shazier on defense, could alter the entire performance of the team. But if all starters avoid missing time and play as well as they are capable, the Steelers should not have too much trouble reaching double-digit wins. Twelve seems like a reasonable number for 2017.