The one thing about the Steelers that should remain the same this season

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns / Jason Miller/GettyImages

If the Steelers have pushed for anything, it has been change. From their quarterback situation to their draft process, it has become increasingly obvious that they’re eager to take things in a new direction—and it appears they aren’t the only ones.

I am of course referring to whoever set up their 2024-25 schedule, particularly in regards to how the divisional slate turned out. The Steelers do not play a single AFC North opponent until Week 11 after their sole bye week has passed. This means Pittsburgh will be enduring all six run-ins with its biggest rivals in just eight weeks.

That would suck for any team, but what makes it suck especially so for one like Pittsburgh is the brutality of the North, along with its tendency to need a late turnaround in order to finish on a respectable note.

Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s also take a moment to recognize how the two non-divisional foes chosen to be included in that stretch were the playoff-caliber Philadelphia Eagles and three-peat-eyeing Kansas City Chiefs. Yeah, those guys won’t make matters worse at all.

The bottom line here is that the Steelers have a relentless division that dominates the part of their calendar where they typically have to shine the brightest, and there isn’t a single break throughout it. With that in mind, their performance against the rest of the North is going to define this season more than it has most others. So one must wonder how they will hold up in it—the same way I did leading up to today.

Pittsburgh’s AFC North play begins rather docile, but it isn’t that way for long

The Steelers kick off this closing stretch with a home game against the Baltimore Ravens, and surprisingly, that’s probably about as forgiving as their divisional relations are going to be. Sure, the Ravens are a top team in the AFC thanks to their two-time MVP in quarterback Lamar Jackson. Even with him running the show, they have struggled with the Steelers to an inexcusable degree in recent memory.

Not only that but with the Steelers having the troubled Washington Commanders the week before the game while the Ravens have a considerably trickier Bengals squad, the placement on their schedules also falls in Pittsburgh’s favor. Therefore, I’d say a win for the Steel City is a fair expectation here, and thank goodness for that, as things heat up quite drastically in the couple of weeks that follow.

Right after the “upset” over Baltimore, the Steelers have the Browns on the road. Just like the walkthrough of how matters favor Pittsburgh over the Ravens, the reasoning behind my verdict on this matchup is pretty straightforward—it’s just heading in the opposite direction this time.

Simply put, just about every facet of this game gives the Browns an edge, whether it be their having home-field advantage, their proven ability to consistently compete with Pittsburgh, the 11-win season they’re coming off of, or them facing a lackluster opponent (New Orleans) beforehand. I find it quite hard to believe that the Steelers will have what it takes to plow through them despite all that.

At this point, it would almost feel inappropriate for Pittsburgh’s next battle to involve any team other than Cincinnati, and it looks like the scheduling bigwigs thought the same, as that’s exactly who they chose.

Now this will probably be where things get a tad too controversial for some of you Steelers diehards out there, but I don’t care: The Bengals are going to win this game.

This likely rubs you the wrong way due to the uncertainty surrounding their offensive identity following multiple departures, including those of Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and OC Brian Callahan. I don’t see these as tide-turners though, because there’s no way the Bengals offense is in any bumpier condition than Pittsburgh’s.

For starters, while some of the names on Cincy’s end are being replaced, the one that matters most, Joe Burrow, hasn’t gone anywhere. Secondly, while Callahan’s absence is sure to sting, his being succeeded by QB coach Dan Pitcher maintains a much-needed connection on the sideline. None of this can be said for the Steelers, who have entirely new faces at both positions.

In short, Cincinnati will be hosting a Steelers team that’s coming off a trying loss, and doing so with an offense that has all the better chances of prospering (assuming Burrow stays healthy). Not ideal. But hey, you want to know what’s even less ideal? Having your fourth divisional encounter lined up directly afterward.

Right after back-to-back losses started by the Browns, the Steelers have to face them again

That’s right, just two weeks after seeing them in Cleveland, the Browns are back in our faces, strutting into Acrisure Stadium with their chests puffed out. As one could surely imagine, the reunion is especially unfortunate when knowing the 2024 edition of our rivalry began with them handing us our first divisional loss…or is it?

You can say what you want about the Browns catching speed as a formidable AFC power, but it doesn’t change just how well the Steelers have held their own against them, particularly when it comes to how they’ve avoided getting swept by them every year since 1988. Oh, and this match being in Pittsburgh doesn’t hurt either.

It may not be particularly “journalistic” or “substantial,” but I just can’t force myself to give the Browns a sweep here, which bumps the Steelers up to 2-2 in the AFC North as they enter their first of just two weeks off from it, which holds a visit to Philadelphia for a throw-down with the Eagles.

My feelings about this game, while public, aren’t relevant now; just know it won’t be easy, nor will it help the Steelers as their divisional play picks right back up after it with a rematch against the Ravens in Baltimore.

Let’s just get this segment over with: The hosting Ravens will be out for blood as they bring the hammer down on a Pittsburgh squad that will not have been able to catch its breath in over a month—that’s a loss. Then it’s the two-time-defending-champ Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas Day immediately after them—not even going to waste my time on that one.

Now all the Steelers have in front of them is their reunion with the Bengals, but they’re coming off of what could very well be three consecutive losses. That would never make for a reassuring pat on the back, but having it linger around as you’re approaching a rivalry game you were already on the losing end of earlier in the season? To reference Chandler Bing, “Could the future be any bleaker?”

But wait! Don’t lose hope just yet! Pittsburgh still has one advantage in the holster: Its late-season bloom.

A stage, used to witnessing a team’s complete downfall, will present Pittsburgh’s stunning finale

I may have made the phenomenon sound negative earlier, but it nonetheless helps the Steelers pump out some crucial wins right at the buzzer, and I firmly believe this meeting will be the next example of it.

Think about it: I gave Cincinnati a ton of credit for their superior solidity in regards to their offensive identity, asserting that it could jostle the Steelers in their first battle of the season as they’re fresh off a loss at Cleveland. This game, however, will both see a Steelers squad that knows what to expect and have Acrisure Stadium bursting your eardrums.

Also, with Pittsburgh enduring KC on Christmas Day (a Wednesday), they get all the more time to rest up and prepare for whatever the Bengals have in store.

And, as if all of that isn’t enough, we have to consider the odds of the Steelers entering Week 18 with their postseason hopes dangling by a thread, while those of their rivals are secure enough to allow the resting of some starters (a scenario which, if recent memory is any implication, sits well within the realm of possibility).

dark. Next. Steelers are mismanaging yet another contract following James Daniels news. Steelers are mismanaging yet another contract following James Daniels news

In total, I have Pittsburgh finishing its 2024-25 regular season 3-3 in the AFC North. Assuming they wouldn’t then lose to any fellow members in the playoffs, that means the Steelers would finish with three divisional losses for the seventh time since their 2011-12 run. So, no matter how different they may look heading into this season, there’s at least one thing about them that’ll look all too familiar coming out of it.