Steelers Versus the Strength of Schedule

Prior to the 2008 season it was stated that, based on their opponent’s 2007 records (combined 153-103), the Steelers had one of the toughest schedules doled out by the NFL in a month of Superbowl Sundays. It turned out the schedule was tough, but as usual, not for the assumed reasons.

In 2008 the Steelers played the East divisions from both conferences. That means they’d face both Superbowl teams (Giants, Patriots) and the preseason NFC favorite, reality-TV starring Cowboys.

Most Steelers fans anticipated little more than mediocrity in the face of such a daunting list of foes. After all, didn’t they get booted from the playoffs by their new nemesis, the Jax Jags? Those same Jags who were on the schedule yet again? Both East divisions and the Jags? Thank goodness the Titans were in there as well! Plus, they’d get to play rookie Joe Flacco and the Ravens twice! (Talk about a case of “careful what you wish for.”)

But as the football gods would have it, the supposedly tough teams turned into cupcakes (Tom Brady was lost for the season early in his first game, the Jags fell back to earth) while the alleged pushovers offered maximum resistance (the Titans would be undefeated until late in the season, Flacco and the Ravens challenged for the division until the very end).

So, while nothing was as it seemed, the Steelers still managed to improve on their previous effort: they won the AFC North (again) and earned a playoff bye.

And the rest is history. They endured the toughest schedule and at season’s end, battled hardened, claimed their record sixth Superbowl title.

Story book. Done.

Not so fast; time to do it all again. This season the Steelers have one of the easiest schedules, based on their opponent’s 2008 records (combined 110-143). Can Steelers fans expect this to be a break? Will it pave the road to the Superbowl and a chance to defend the title? It doesn’t seem likely. As we have learned, the schedule is but a list of games and those on it are rarely what they appeared to be a season ago. A four-win team suddenly turns it around and takes twelve, while a promising up-and-comer plummets back to earth and harsh reality: they simply weren’t that good (product of an easy schedule!?).

Best to follow Coach Tomlin. “Next week we play team X. I don’t know who we play after that. Can’t remember who we played last week. Next up is team X and they’re a dangerous team because they’re an NFL team. We’re preparing for team X.” If the Steelers can maintain that mentality for seventeen weeks, a focus on what is before them sans the distractions of what’s around the corner, then the strength of schedule won’t matter at all. In the end it’s really just fodder for us fans – inspiration for blog posts and message board arguments.

Onward!

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