5 things to watch for with the upcoming Steelers schedule

Following the heels of the Super Bowl, Combine and the first day of the draft, the annual schedule release has become a tent-pole event for the NFL.

What once took place in April during the lead-up to the draft is postponed deeper and deeper into May.

After thousands of computer simulations, the 272-game schedule will be released in its entirety on Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. It will represent the work of six league executives who exhausted countless hours of projections, taking into account nationally televised games and stadium logistics, among other factors.

Steelers fans are particularly interested in the 17 games that will involve their favorite team: the eight that will be played at Acrisure Stadium this year and the nine that will take place on the road. The opponents are already known. The dates and times complete the puzzle.

Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Steelers this season once the schedule is finally announced:

1. Division of labor

A topic of discussion once the schedule is known is the allocation of division games. Not just when the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, but also where those games are contested.

For example, in three of the past six years, the Steelers have finished the season in Baltimore. Last year they finished against the Ravens again, playing the finals on Saturday and then sweating out the Sunday games to get the help needed to earn the No. 7 playoff seed.

Since the NFL went to a 17-game schedule in 2021, one thing has been true for the Steelers. They played two of their six division games in the first nine weeks, with the final four held in the second half of the year.

Last year, the Steelers only faced the Bengals in the second half of the season. The previous two years the Ravens held that honor.

If the schedule stays true to form, expect the Steelers to have a slate of AFC North games.

2. Strong male competition

Based on the records from the 2023 season, the NFL has determined that the Steelers have the third toughest schedule with a winning percentage of .533. The two teams on the Steelers route also play in the AFC North. Cleveland ranks first among the Browns’ opponents with a winning percentage of .547 in 2023. Baltimore is second with a winning percentage of .536.

One reason is that the AFC North will be paired with the NFC East this year. Dallas, at 12-5, and Philadelphia, at 11-6, were two of the top teams in the NFC last season.

The Steelers play the Cowboys at home (along with the New York Giants) and travel to Philadelphia (and Washington).

Analytics guru Warren Sharp throws out last year’s results and bases his ranking difficulty, among other things, on the expected totals of the Las Vegas bookmakers. Sharp has the Steelers listed as playing the toughest schedule in 2024. The Browns and Ravens are also in Sharp’s top five.

3. Thursday evening lighting

Starting last season, the NFL decided that not every team was required to play a Thursday night game after a Sunday game. In a first, the league also allowed some teams to play two short rests during the season.

The Steelers were a test case, making two appearances last Thursday night. The supposed advantage for the Steelers was that every game was scheduled at home and followed Sunday games that were also played at Acrisure Stadium.

Home field proved to be an advantage against the Tennessee Titans in early November, not so much a month later when the Steelers played the New England Patriots. The Steelers lost that game, becoming the first team in history to lose to opponents with a 2–10 record in consecutive games.

4. Holiday messages

Despite Christmas falling on a Wednesday this year, the NFL has decided to play two games on that day, meaning four teams won’t play the Sunday before. Netflix has emerged as a potential broadcast partner for those games, along with Amazon Prime.

The Steelers haven’t played on Christmas since 2017, when they hit the road to take on the Houston Texans. A year earlier, the Steelers played their first Christmas game when they hosted the Ravens in the Immaculate Extension win courtesy of Antonio Brown.

Thanksgiving is another option. The Steelers have played eight times on that Thursday in November and only twice this century. The last Thanksgiving game took place in 2016 in Indianapolis. They were scheduled to play the Ravens at home on Turkey Day in 2020, but the game was postponed several dates due to the pandemic.

5. Hail the Chiefs

The biggest home game of the season includes a visit from the Kansas City Chiefs, who will try to become the first team to win three straight Super Bowl titles.

Two of Kansas City’s games against AFC North opponents have been determined. The Chiefs open the season at home against Baltimore on September 5 and will host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. That leaves the road games against the Steelers and Browns to be determined.

Joe Rutter is a TribLive reporter who has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since the 2016 season. A graduate of Greensburg Salem High School and Point Park, he is in his fifth decade as a sportscaster for the Trib. He can be reached at [email protected].