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SI Writer Thinks Steelers Got Screwed with 2024 Schedule



Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been playing divisional football since 1967, when the NFL first divided its two conferences into what was then four divisions. That year, they didn’t have to wait long to play their first divisional game. The St. Louis Cardinals came to Pittsburgh in Week 2.

Fifty-seven years later, the Steelers are making history. In the Steelers 2024 schedule, their first AFC North game won’t come until Week 11, the latest start to divisional play in team history. In fact, not only is it the latest start in team history, but no team since at least 2002 has had a schedule like this, so it is a wholly unique situation.

Just once in team history has, the first divisional break came after the season’s midpoint. That was in 1991, when their first AFC Central game came against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9. Since then, they had two Week 7 starts to AFC North play, but nothing like what they face this season. But NFL VP Mike North says that was hardly intentional.

“We certainly didn’t set out to have any divisional games that late,” NFL Vice President of Broadcast Planning Mike North said on Thursday’s conference call with reporters. “It’s like a college basketball schedule with the non-conference early. It wasn’t intentional but it wasn’t something we looked at and thought was unfair. You talk about the physicality of the divisional games, and I’m not sure that any NFL game is not a physical

Pittsburgh Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Baltimore Ravens Head coach John Harbaugh

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, talks with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin following an NFL football game, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 in Baltimore. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated disagrees with NFL VP Mike North. He thinks the Steelers got screwed over with the schedule.

“I absolutely despise the way the Steelers’ schedule is laid out,” Orr wrote. “Pittsburgh faces no divisional opponents until Nov. 17, and then successively plays the Baltimore Ravens at home, at the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football (short rest), at the Cincinnati Bengals, a second game against the Browns, a one-week break from the division against a very good Philadelphia Eagles team, and then a second Ravens game on the road with short rest on a Saturday. The AFC North is unique in that it’s akin to SEC divisional play in college football. There is a season, in theory, but the only thing that really matters is the outcome of the most difficult conference in the NFL. Outside of having the third-hardest strength of schedule (most AFC North teams, by virtue of last season and each team’s successes, wound up with skewed SOS rankings), Pittsburgh basically has to shift gears at a time when injury attrition is at its height and battle through the meat of its schedule with one meaningful game after another.

“Pittsburgh also has the sneaky game at the Denver Broncos in Week 2, which sends them from Pennsylvania (practice) to a domed stadium in Atlanta (Week 1) to the most adverse altitude in the sport. The Broncos are 20–3 in home openers over the past 23 seasons for a reason.”

The NFL certainly did the Pittsburgh Steelers no favors with their final eight games of the 2024 season. They have eight straight games against teams expected to have winning records, 6-of-8 expected to win over 10 games. On paper, it’s the hardest final eight games in the NFL, according to Sharp. All six of their AFC North divisional games come in that span, too.

Sharp said the eight-game stretch is off the charts, and ridiculous difficult for the Steelers. No other team comes close to the gauntlet that the Steelers will face from Weeks 11-18.

The Steelers have the seventh-easiest schedule from Weeks 1-10, so if there’s any year that they can’t afford a slow start, the 2024 season is it.

“The end of Pittsburgh’s schedule is also ominous,” Orr wrote. “The Steelers play Baltimore, having had just six days rest, which then bleeds into a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas on four days of rest. So, that’s a massive chunk of recovery sapped out of the schedule for a team that relies heavily on some veteran defensive players who have struggled to stay healthy. Ravens-Chiefs-Bengals to end the season, completing a stretch of six divisional games in eight weeks, feels ridiculous. Oddly, the Bears also have the same wildly backloaded divisional schedule.”