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Steelers' schedule is much easier

| Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thinking out loud:

- What a difference a year makes.

I'm referring, of course, to the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2009 schedule, which was released last night.

At this time a year ago most folks were wondering if the Steelers could crack the .500 mark against what was supposed to be the league's toughest schedule, including teams from the rugged NFC East and AFC South.

Coach Mike Tomlin's second team, however, won nine of its last 10 games to finish the campaign at 12-4 en route to an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl victory.

Today everyone thinks repeating a 12-4 showing won't be a problem against a card that includes the AFC West and NFC North, the league's two weakest divisions in 2008.

It's no secret that the upcoming schedule is a lot easier, and Tomlin won't complain about the bye coming in the eighth week.

Probably the biggest change from a year ago is the number of scheduled 1 p.m. kickoffs.

Last year the Steelers had only two of five early starts prior to December.

This season the Steelers have 10 1 p.m. kickoffs scheduled, with six in the opening three months.

Unlike a year ago when six of their games were set for 4:15 p.m., only the first away contest at Chicago Sept. 20 will be the second contest of an afternoon doubleheader.

The Steelers close the regular season Jan. 3 in Miami, which a month later will be the site of Super Bowl XLIV.

- Bet no one is calling the Steelers cheapskates today after agreeing to give more than $51 million on a six-year contract to linebacker James Harrison, including $20 million guaranteed.

I just wonder how productive Harrison will be come 2014 when he's 37.

- Think backup quarterback Charley Batch was upset when he learned that Byron Leftwich turned in his Steelers uniform to sign with Tampa Bay earlier this week?

Batch, by the way, is expected to sign a one-year contract with Pittsburgh today after spending the entire 2008 campaign on injured reserve.

- Isn't it nice to look at the National League Central standings and not see the Pittsburgh Pirates at the bottom of the pack?

Speaking of the Pirates, with the Pittsburgh Penguins opening the playoffs tonight at home with Philadelphia, the Bucs will be lucky to draw 15,000 fans for tonight's home contest with Houston.

- Does anyone really care what I think?

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