Happy NFL schedule release day!
It's a great day for hope, planning your road trips / games you'll be attending in the fall, and of course, a great deal of speculation four months to the day before a meaningful football is snapped. But that's what we do. This is a football world, and I (gratefully) live in it.
The realization that I was looking at most likely Ben Roethlisberger's final season as quarterback of the Steelers hit me as soon as I saw the full slate. One Last Ride. *buy below*
So, good or bad looking at the schedule in May, I already am reminding myself that I'm going to sit back and enjoy this final go-around with 7 at the helm before we find ourselves in a potential quarterback purgatory for however long. With that being said, at first glance this schedule looks a lot like 9-8, maybe 10-7 in we get hot late. The home schedule looks fairly reasonable, but the road slate is...less than favorable.
Yes, I know all this can change. Yes, I know that it likely will once real football happens and injuries and the season grind play out. Right now, though, it's May so right now we're going to play it out on paper.
Let's get into it. Game-by-game of the 2021 schedule.
Week 1 @ Buffalo 1:00 p.m. L 27 - 23
The Steelers streak of starting the season on the road continues. Haven't opened at Heinz since 2014 when Antonio Brown infamously dropkicked Spencer Lanning into the turf. Really tough opener. Buffalo was a game away from the Super Bowl last year. They pick up hot where they left off last season and the Josh Allen - Stefon Diggs connection continues to beat up on the Steelers secondary like it did on SNF last season. Make a few too many big plays.
Week 2 vs. Las Vegas 1:00 W 24 - 18
Najee Harris makes his Heinz Field debut a memorable one scoring two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. Minkah Fitzpatrick picks off Derek Carr late and the Steelers pick up the first win of the year.
Week 3 vs. Cincinnati 1:00 W 30 - 17
The early part of the Steelers schedule should be one they can handle fairly well. Playing in Pittsburgh continues to be the bane of Cincinnati QBs existence, even for up-and-coming (and healthy again) Joe Burrow. He gets sacked five times, and the Steelers start their first win streak of 2021.
Week 4 @ Green Bay 4:25 L 34 - 23
Annnnd that winning streak is short lived. Only thing that gives me hope here is obviously if Aaron Rodgers somehow gets traded in the next couple of months. But right now he's still a Packer so we'll operate as if 12 is running the show for the Pack in week four with Nantz and Romo in the booth. He throws three touchdowns. Steelers back to .500.
Week 5 vs. Denver 1:00 W 28 - 21
Now the teeter-totter really starts going back and forth. Denver gave us a scare in week two last year with Jeff Driskel as their QB. He won't be playing quarterback this time. Von Miller will be back. Surtain II will pick off Big Ben. But the Steelers struggle to win in Denver the last decade and the same can be said for the Broncos in Pittsburgh. That trend continues. Steelers go back above .500.
Week 6 vs. Seattle 8:20 W 30 - 27
Seattle came in and snuck one out at Heinz in 2019 after Big Ben went out with his elbow injury after the first quarter. This will be a fun one in primetime. Russell Wilson makes a few spectacular plays to keep Seattle in it down the stretch, but I like TJ Watt and Cam Heyward to get home more often than not to help give the Steelers a big win heading into the BYE. This may be the best we feel about the black and gold in 2021.
Week 7 BYE
Week 8 @ Cleveland 1:00 L 27 - 13
Halloween day in the Dawg Pound and I think this one will be as ugly as the folks sitting in the front row for the Steelers. Cleveland makes a statement similarly to how the Steelers did the first time these two met in 2020 at Heinz Field. They ramp up to let Pittsburgh and the NFL know this is their division now. Big Ben turns it over three times. Rusty after the bye.
Week 9 vs. Chicago 8:15 W 24 - 20
Sorry Big Cat and Chicago crew. Justin Fields first start in Pittsburgh ends in a loss. TJ Watt strip sack is the difference in this one, and the Steelers begin to heavily rely on Najee Harris on the ground now that we're in November.
Week 10 vs. Detroit 1:00 W 38 - 17
Every year the Steelers are guaranteed to have one "holy shit this team can be scary" game and one "holy shit that was the worse football I've ever seen" game. The former happens here in week 10. It's a blowout from the start. Three games above .500. Another December collapse looming?
Week 11 @ Los Angeles Chargers L 35 - 21
The latter of the two games guaranteed every year listed above happens directly after the "holy shit it's a blowout" game. Steelers rarely travel west well. Primetime. Traveling west. Scary LA team with Herbie at the helm. Couple garbage time scores make the final score closer than what the game was.
Week 12 @ Cincinnati L 23 - 20
I was unfortunately at the MNF debacle in Cincy last December. Saw the Steelers lose in Cincy for the first time in what felt like an eternity. It can happen. It happens again in an ugly one. Joe Burrow leads a 4th quarter drive to set up the game-winning field goal as time expires. Two straight losses in Cincy. Yikes.
Week 13 vs. Baltimore W 24 - 23
December football arrives with a huge win to give the Steelers some life after two straight losses. Justin Tucker hits a field goal to give the Ravens a 23-21 lead but leaves too much time for one more Big Ben drive to beat the Ravens. Chris Boswell comes through with seconds left to give the Steelers the win.
Week 14 @ Minnesota TNF 8:20 L 27 - 17
The gauntlet starts on a short week on TNF in Minnesota. I say "we're letting Kirk fucking Cousins do this to us" more times than I can count. Tough road environment in primetime. The Big Ben questions and complaints really start ramping up after this one.
Week 15 vs. Tennessee 1:00 L 20 - 17
Tennessee gets some payback from last year's dramatic loss. Physical, physical ground game the weekend before Christmas. It'll be snowy, cold, nasty in Pittsburgh. Perfect for Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. Back to .500.
Week 16 @ Kansas City 1:00 L 34 - 20
Steelers play Patrick Mahomes on the road for the first time. Doesn't go well. Not a Merry Christmas for Steelers Nation. Playoff hopes on the line the final three weeks.
Week 17 vs. Cleveland 8:15 W 23 - 17
Pittsburgh 'avenges' the last time the Browns were at Heinz Field almost a calendar year later. Another tough battle with an AFC North rival that gets won with one big play in the 4th quarter. Big Ben wins his final game at Heinz Field against the team he's dominated throughout his years in Pittsburgh.
Week 18 @ Baltimore 1:00 L 24 - 21
Both teams are fighting for playoff spots / positions. Baltimore for the division, Steelers for a wild card spot. Baltimore's ground game is too much, and Big Ben unfortunately goes out with two picks with the heavy realization looking up at the scoreboard that it's over. For good.
Look, I always try to balance these type of blogs with some sense of reality while also sitting next to my Terrible Towel. My heart wants me to write that this team is going to surprise and have a magical run to 12-6 and a sweet setup in the playoffs for Big Ben's final push for his third Lombardi, but my head just tells me otherwise. Unfortunately. Five primetime games at least per usual. There will be plenty of times where I'm sure I'll think this team can put together that kind of run. And there will be those harsh realizations that this era of Big Ben Steelers football is done. What comes next? I'll be excited for. But here and now, this is how I see it. Can't wait for September.
This may make you feel better, though...Here We Go.