Tim Benz: Six-pack of thoughts on Steelers’ 2019 schedule
Here is a six-pack of thoughts after a quick first-look at the Steelers 2019 schedule.
1. Again? Really?
The NFL is making the Steelers open in Foxborough, Mass., for “Sunday Night Football” on Sept. 8.
On banner-raising night.
Haven’t we suffered enough?
That happened in 2002 to open Gillette Stadium after the first Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Super Bowl win. New England rolled 30-14.
It happened again in September 2015, after the Patriots beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. New England was victorious, 28-21, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Why not have the Patriots open up against the Chiefs at home? Isn’t that a more interesting watch anyway? Kansas City opens up on the road at Jacksonville at 1 p.m. on that Sunday.
2. Le’V late
What were the schedule-makers thinking here?
The Steelers don’t play Le’Veon Bell’s Jets until Week 16. By that time, both Bell and James Conner could be injured.
Based on records, the intrigue of Bell vs. the Steelers may be a long-forgotten storyline. And it’s buried at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22.
It could be flexed if the matchup matters late, I guess. But what a swing and miss. This feels tailor-made for prime time in Week 1, following two seasons of Bell-vs.-the-Steelers hype off the field.
The network execs must be hating this dropped pass.
3. Early and often
The Steelers have their usual five prime-time games. They are all front-loaded within the first 11 weeks.
The club’s last prime-time game is the Thursday night affair against the Browns in Week 11.
That was a smart play for network audiences. The Steelers have a large national following. But they are coming off a non-playoff campaign, and they have a slew of holes on their roster. So, in a season where they could endure their first sub-.500 year in the Ben Roethlisberger era, the thinking appears to be smoosh them in as many prime-time games as possible before 2019 could come off the rails and they get squeezed out of playoff contention.
That way, the league TV types have hedged their bets and maximized their audiences on one of their most bankable teams in what could be one of their least bankable seasons in recent memory.
And if the Steelers end up being good anyway? Great! They’ll get you good TV numbers late in the season during the normal Sunday windows against the likes of Arizona and Buffalo.
4. The autumn wind
The Steelers need to make waves in late October through early November. They have three home games in a row against the Dolphins, Colts and Rams between Oct. 28 and Nov. 10.
Two of those games are against playoff teams from last year. A total of five divisional games precede, and follow, that stretch.
So this will be the most revealing swath of the 2019 schedule.
5. Ohio trifecta
After that three-pack at Heinz Field, the Steelers play back-to-back against the Browns (Thursday, Nov. 14) and Bengals in Ohio. Then Cleveland comes to Pittsburgh on Dec. 1. So the team will barely have to travel for six weeks (seven, actually, since the bye week is before that Miami game).
If the Browns are as good as people think they will be, and the Bengals are as bad as people think they will be, these divisional contests may make or break any thoughts the organization has on reclaiming the AFC North.
6. Wide berth
The Steelers-Ravens rivalry will be stretched out this season. The two AFC North foes collide in Week 5 at Heinz Field. They don’t rematch until the last game of the season on Dec. 29.
If history says anything, that final game will mean something significant for at least one of the teams, if not both. And both will potentially look very different from how they began the 2019 season.