Robinson: Steelers face light travel schedule in 2014
For the 2014 Steelers, it truly will be the road less traveled.
They're hoping to get wins on the road, but they won't get many frequent-flyer miles as they play the NFL's least taxing travel schedule. It also is one of the least taxing in league history, if only because road games inside the AFC North are the shortest of any division.
A season after making trips to London, Oakland and Green Bay, the Steelers will travel only 5,823 miles to play their eight road games — barely one-third of the 15,714 they ventured this past season. It's not even one-sixth the 36,451 miles the Raiders will journey during an adventuresome season in which they play a home game 10,840 miles away in London, plus three games in the Eastern time zone.
Only the Browns (5,948 miles) have a comparable travel schedule to the Steelers. All but six teams will travel at least twice as far as the Steelers, and five teams will log about four times as much mileage.
Obviously, there isn't parity in the NFL's travel schedule.
The Steelers (and Browns) catch a break because the AFC North plays the NFC South and the AFC South, a schedule that translates into a number of flights of less than 1,000 miles. The Steelers will travel no farther west than Nashville, Tenn., and no further south than Jacksonville, Fla.
The Bengals and Ravens will log more air miles because they play Houston and New Orleans on the road. The Steelers and Browns play both at home. And the Steelers' lone game against an AFC West team (San Diego) is at Heinz Field.
The last couple of times the Steelers played the NFC South and AFC South in the same season, they traveled at least 2,300 miles further than they will this fall.
Seven teams will trek 20,000 miles or more in 2014. Four are West Coast teams: the Raiders, Seahawks (26,300), Chargers (20,394) and 49ers (20,200). The Jaguars (22,107), Cowboys (24,767) and Dolphins (24,973), all of whom play in London, also face arduous road schedules.
The Cowboys have long-mileage trips to play the Giants, Eagles, Redskins and Seahawks. The Dolphins will travel at least 2,188 miles round-trip for each road game except one in Jacksonville. (The Steelers' longest round-trip journey all season is 1,394 miles.)
Of course, flying isn't the grind for teams that it can be for commercial airline passengers. Teams travel on chartered planes, so players don't endure long security lines or a middle seat passenger stuffed in beside them. They also are served hot meals and have their luggage handled for them.
But extended trips can take a toll. Multiple studies have shown that West Coast teams traveling east to play 1 p.m. Sunday games win only about 33 percent of the time. West Coast teams playing night games against East Coast teams win about 70 percent of the time.
Mark W. Nichols, a professor at Nevada-Reno who has written about the effects of visiting team travel on game outcomes, knows of no academic research into how travel affects NFL teams. But he said the schedule can't help but benefit the Steelers compared to the Raiders, who will travel an average of 4,050 every time they step onto a plane. The Steelers average 728 miles.
Such a schedule also takes away one of the Steelers' biggest disadvantages under coach Mike Tomlin: playing outside their own time zone.
Under Tomlin, they are 70-28 when playing in the Eastern time zone and 6-16 outside it. They've lost eight of their past nine outside their time zone and their past five on the West Coast, dating to Bill Cowher's tenure.
In 2014, they will play 15 of their 16 games in the Eastern time zone, with the trip to Nashville the lone exception.
In a little less than eight months, the Steelers will learn if traveling so little for an entire season will prove to be the road to success.
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