The 2021 NFL season is rapidly approaching as teams gear up to place themselves in a position to win the Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Among the multitude of teams contending for a championship, some may endure a more rigorous season solely due to their tougher schedule.
Every season, NFL schedules are predicated on each team's success - or lack thereof - the year prior. Unfortunately, there are a few franchises that have it harder than others this year.
Without further ado, the team with the toughest schedule this season: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steelers' impressive 2020 season had ramifications
Pittsburgh got off to a red-hot start last season at 11-0 before losing four of their last five and being bounced out of the first round by division rival Cleveland Browns, ending their promising season fairly early. However, their 11-0 start ultimately equated to a 12-4 record, which led the AFC North and placed second in the AFC.
With the AFC North already being arguably the toughest division in the NFL, the Steelers will also be tasked with playing division winners from their conference (Bills, Chiefs, Titans).
A tall order for the Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh's 2021 opponents will feature: the Buffalo Bills (13-3), Green Bay Packers (13-3), Seattle Seahawks (12-4), Cleveland Browns (11-5) 2x, Los Angeles Chargers (7-9), Baltimore Ravens (11-5) 2x, Tennessee Titans (11-5) and Kansas City Chiefs (15-2).
This includes ending their season with a four-game slate against the Titans, Chiefs, and division rivals Browns and Ravens. Any schedule featuring Pro Bowl quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson should warrant immense concern for any NFL franchise.
The numbers are not in Pittsburgh's favor in the 2021 NFL season
Overall, Pittsburgh has the toughest schedule heading into this season at .574. This record not only gives them the most difficult schedule numerically, but makes them one of two teams (the other being the Ravens) with a strength of schedule over .550. Furthermore, teams with the hardest schedule have missed the playoffs the last four seasons.
This season will be a tough one for the Steelers, especially with Ben Roethlisberger entering his 18th season as a pro at the age of 39. He'll enter the season with a loaded wide receiving corps of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and Dionatae Johnson, along with the best, most dynamic running back in the 2021 NFL Draft in Najee Harris, forming a multi-faceted offensive attack.
For Pittsburgh to reach the NFL postseason and contend for a championship, they'll have to fire on all cylinders with their ferocious defense. The defense will rely heavily on Defensive Player of the Year runner-up T.J Watt and Cam Heyward, as well as All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, to control the back end.
Considering all of the above, Pittsburgh has been dealt the worst hand in the NFL; a hefty price to pay after such a successful season. Fortunately, however, Mike Tomlin and Big Ben are no strangers to adversity as their partnership enters its 15th season. That being said, this 2021 schedule still appears to be a daunting task.