If you're one of the people who's of a mind that revenge indeed is sweet, that payback for the infliction of pain and suffering is best handled quickly, then the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 regular season schedule was made with you in mind.
Coming into the 2011 NFL season, the Steelers had played in three of the previous six Super Bowls and won two of them, and the expectation around town and within the organization was that a fourth trip within a seven-year span was definitely realistic. After all, the 2010 Steelers had won the AFC Championship to represent their conference in Super Bowl XLV, and there was a sense of unfinished business surrounding the team as it opened training camp last July. But those expectations went unfulfilled, those dreams were dashed on a Sunday evening in Denver when the Broncos sent the Steelers home with a 29-23 win in overtime during the Wild Card Round.
There certainly were a number of players, to go along with thousands of Steelers fans, who would have liked a do-over even as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was crossing the goal line to complete the game-winning 80-yard touchdown play, and the league office has obliged. The Steelers lost in Denver to the Broncos to end their 2011 quest for a championship and they get an opportunity to begin the 2012 version of that quest against the same opponent on the same patch of grass.
And while they won't get a chance to do that against the guy who orchestrated that upset – Tim Tebow – the Steelers have an opportunity to settle a debt with him the following weekend when Tebow's new team, the New York Jets, serves as the opponent for the home opener at Heinz Field.
"That's an interesting way to look at it, that's for sure," said Steelers President Art Rooney II when presented with the revenge angle. "Hopefully we can get revenge, both of those two weeks. If we can start out getting revenge in both week one and week two, that would be a good way to start the season.
"We had an alert from the league that we were probably going to be involved in one of the primetime games (on the opening weekend), and we heard some rumors that it could be Denver," added Rooney. "So we're not too surprised about it."
The Steelers on primetime no longer should be a surprise to anyone, and after they open their season with that Sunday night game in Denver, they will appear four other times in primetime. The Steelers are on the road for three of their five primetime games.
Only once since Heinz Field opened in 2001 – a span of 12 seasons that includes 2012 – have the Steelers played more primetime games at home than they have on the road, and that came in 2007 when the home-to-road ratio was 3-to-2. Seven times (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2004 and 2003) they have played more on the road than at home in primetime, and four times (2006, 2005, 2002 and 2001) it was an even split.
"Coaches would like to play every game at 1 o'clock on Sunday, but the thing about primetime games is that it's when the most fans can watch," said Rooney. "That's the trade-off. While it's probably easier to prepare for the 1 o'clock games, if you want to be playing on the big stage so to speak, you're going to be on the primetime games. If you're in the primetime games, you're an attractive team, so you almost have to look at it from the bright side and take it as a compliment."
What's unique about this season's batch of primetime assignments is that the Steelers' Thursday night game in 2012 is early – on Oct. 11 in Tennessee against the Titans. The 2012 season will be the first with an expanded Thursday night slate of games, all of which will be broadcast by NFL Network.
"(Thursday nights) are one of those things where you have to grin and bear it, because it's part of today's game," said Rooney. "As far as I'm concerned, it's probably better to get it over with early in the season, so it doesn't bother me that we're playing that one early, and most particularly that we're not playing too far away. If you have to have an away Thursday game, thank goodness it's not too far away."
In addition to Thursday nights, another recent league initiative involves back-loading teams' schedules with games against division opponents. Five of the Steelers' six division games will be played over the regular season's final seven weeks, with the home-and-home bloodbath against the Baltimore Ravens to be staged over a three-week period in late November/early December.
"It's a little unusual to be playing the Ravens that close together," said Rooney. "It probably would be better to have them spread out a little bit, but if you look at the second half of the schedule it's really heavily weighted toward division games. That's probably the way it should be (at that point of the season), to be playing within the division, with the exception of a couple of the interesting games we have there at the beginning of December. Dallas (on Dec. 16) is always an interesting place to go for the Steelers."
The bulk of the AFC North Division games are late, but the Steelers' bye weekend is back to early. In 2011, the Steelers bye fell on Nov. 20, after their 10th game of the season. In 2012, it will come on Sept. 30, after their third game. If there is a silver lining there, though, it's that the bye week follows the Steelers' longest trip of the season – to Oakland for a game against the Raiders.
"Last year we played a West Coast game (on a Monday night in San Francisco) and had to come back and play again on a short week (at home against St. Louis on a Saturday)," said Rooney. "You hate to have to do that kind of thing, so if you have to have a bye week it's best to have it coming off the West Coast game. From that standpoint, it probably makes sense. Typically, I'd rather have the bye a little later in the season, but there's not much you can do about it. It's usually welcomes whenever it comes."