The Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC North in 2020, but two of their division rivals won playoff games.
A 48-37 loss to Cleveland in the AFC wild-card round offered a brutal reality check for the franchise — and the future with two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger. Baltimore won a playoff game, too. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2016 season, but the short-term outlook is the same. Mike Tomlin signed a three-year extension in the offseason, and Roethlisberger will be the starting quarterback in 2021.
It will be a pivotal year against a first-place schedule that includes games against the AFC West and NFC North, not to mention those AFC North rivals.
How does that schedule look now? Here is a complete breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 schedule, including dates and start times for all 17 games and our early prediction.
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Pittsburgh Steelers schedule 2021
The Steelers open the season on Sunday, Sept. 12, against the Bills, a 1 p.m. ET on CBS. The rest of the schedule will be released at 8 p.m. ET tonight.
The Steelers will play 10 games against teams that made the postseason last year, including every AFC team except the Indianapolis Colts. The 17th game is against Seattle, which beat the Steelers in a 28-26 thriller in 2019.
Pittsburgh was 7-1 at Heinz Field in the regular season in 2020, and it helps to get the Titans at home this year. The Bears, Lions, Raiders and Broncos had an 18-14 road record last season, so it’s not easy by any stretch.
Steelers strength of schedule
Pittsburgh’s opponents had a .574 winning percentage last season, which gives the Steelers the most-most difficult schedule by record. The Ravens, Browns and Bengals also have tough schedules, but Pittsburgh’s first-place schedule is nasty.
The Steelers need to take care of business at home, especially in the face of that tough road schedule. Pittsburgh is 30-13 at home the last five seasons, and they are one of the top-five teams when it comes to taking care of their home turf in that stretch. That needs to be an emphasis, especially after the playoff loss to the Browns.
Toughest tests: Kansas City, Green Bay and Buffalo combined for a 25-5 record at home (including playoffs) in 2020. Those are three of the toughest venues to play at, and the Steelers lost at Buffalo without fans last season. Road games against the Vikings and Chargers will not be easy, either.
It’s a statistical oddity, but the Steelers are 0-3 against the Bears under Tomlin. That is a home game, but it could be a tricky one.
Biggest breaks: The good news is the Steelers are 8-1 in the regular season against the Vikings, Lions and Packers under Tomlin. Plus, the uncertainty around Aaron Rodgers could make that an easier matchup at Lambeau Field.
For what it’s worth, Pittsburgh does not have to play New England in the regular season for the first time since 2014. Obviously that’s a different challenge now that Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay, but Pittsburgh was 1-4 in those games.
If Pittsburgh can take care of business at home against the Lions, Raiders and Broncos, then they should be in the mix for an AFC North crown.
Bottom line: Is this Big Ben’s last stand in the division? The Steelers no longer have that aura of invincibility with their Ohio rivals. Cleveland split the regular-season meetings, and the playoff victory puts the pressure on Pittsburgh to respond. The Steelers gave Roethlisberger some help by adding rookies Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth, but the Browns have a talented roster.
Cincinnati, which beat the Steelers in Week 15, also offers a more-interesting challenge with Joe Burrow at quarterback. Burrow should be healthy, and that rivalry should reheat, too.
Pittsburgh won the division last year, but Baltimore and Cleveland will likely be picked to win the AFC North in most preseason publications. Pittsburgh needs to go at least 4-2 in its division games knowing the rest of the schedule is brutal.
Record prediction: 10-7
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