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Saunders: NFL Did Steelers Favor with Back-Loaded Schedule

Their back-loaded 2024 schedule will give the Pittsburgh Steelers plenty of time to round into form after an offseason full of change.



Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris is tackled by two Baltimore Ravens at M&T Stadium on Jan. 6, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2024 offseason has been an extremely busy one. Ever since the team’s 2023 season ended with a playoff loss at the Buffalo Bills, it’s been a non-stop whirling of an offensive coordinator search that resulted in the hiring of Arthur Smith, three major quarterback transactions and a new starter in Russell Wilson, a wide receiver room overhaul, swiping a top free agent from a divisional rival, and another offensive line-heavy draft class.

That’s going to mean that when the Steelers get together for the first game of their 2024 schedule on Sept. 8 on the road against the Atlanta Falcons, they’re going to look a whole lot different than they did in 2023. The hope is that most of the changes will be positive, but it’s going to make for a difficult getting-together period for the team in the early part of the 2024 season.

The good news for the Steelers? Almost all of their most-important and most-difficult games are loaded into the back half of their 2024 schedule.

The Steelers will not play a divisional game until Week 11, when they host the Baltimore Ravens. Over the final eight weeks of the season, the Steelers will play all six of their divisional opponents, plus the two other most challenging games on their schedule, the Philadelphia Eagles.

The final eight weeks will go vs. Baltimore on Nov. 17, at Cleveland on Nov. 21, at Cincinnati on Dec. 1, vs. Cleveland on Dec. 8, at Philadelphia on Dec. 15, at Baltimore on Dec. 21, vs. Kansas City on Dec. 25 and vs. Cincinnati on Jan. 5.

That’s certainly a gauntlet, and it won’t be an easy stretch run. But the Steelers will also get the runway they need to bring in what could be three rookies starters on the offense, a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator together into something that might resemble a playoff football team by that stretch.

The back-loaded divisional schedule should honestly be a staple, anyway. How many times has an early-season divisional game featured prominently in tiebreaker scenarios, that ended up being decided by versions of those teams that looked nothing like the ones that ended the season? 

Those division games will decide who makes the playoffs out of a loaded AFC North and who doesn’t. In a division with no bad teams, those six will make or break everyone’s season. Why not play them in December? 

Look at it this way — as long as they don’t totally blow the start of the season, the Steelers are basically guaranteed a playoff spot, and the postseason begins on Nov. 17. The rest is just a warmup.

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May 16, 2024 1:43 am

This has got to be the dumbest thing I’ve read all year. Have you actually seen the schedule? It’s totally screwed. So many short-rest games between divisional opponents or the Chiefs. Half of the divisional games should be played earlier in the year, and there shouldn’t be any short-rest games between division rivals. The AFC North is already the toughest division in the entire league. The Steelers schedule is one of the very worst in the league before you factor short rest. If even just one key player is injured in December, we’ll be lucky to squeak in as wild… Read more »