Steelers schedule for 2018

The NFL saved the best for last for Pittsburgh. The Steelers schedule has a relatively harmless early stretch punctuated by a Week 7 bye, but close with three of their final five games against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Philip Rivers’ Chargers, Tom Brady’s Patriots, Drew Brees’ Saints. The league’s late-night darlings from 2017, Pittsburgh is slated to play in eight nationally televised games this time around; that’s half of its season in prime time.

Thanks to a random but significant quirk, the Steelers could have the AFC North wrapped up by midseason. How? They play five of their six division games between Week 1 (Cleveland Browns) and Week 9 (Baltimore Ravens), and only one more over their final eight games. If the Steelers perform well in those games — and, overall, they have the NFL’s easiest first half of the season based on opponents’ 2017 winning percentage — they could bury the Browns, Ravens and perhaps the Cincinnati Bengals early and provide all three little chance to make up ground. Pittsburgh’s final division game will come in Week 17, at home against the Bengals.

Steelers Toughest Test

You know the drill by now. There will be a lot on the line in the Steelers’ home game against the Patriots, and Pittsburgh has lost the last five meetings to New England since 2013. Last year’s controversial finish aside, this has been the toughest test for most of the decade. A trip to New Orleans will be a battle of Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, and a trip to the Black Hole to face Jon Gruden and the Raiders could rekindle that classic rivalry.

Biggest breaks

The Chargers have to make a cross-country trip to play the Steelers. As for the Chiefs, they haven’t beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh since Dec. 21, 1986.

Bottom line

The road game against Jacksonville should be interesting. That’s the team that beat the Steelers twice last year and upset the pecking order in the AFC. Something else to watch: Pittsburgh has lost just three AFC North games in the last three seasons It shouldn’t see much of a slide in 2018.

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