The goal, NFL coaches always say, is for a team to be playing its best football at the end of a season. It would behoove the Steelers to be a team falling into that category in 2015.
In what has become an offseason event surpassed in fan interest only by the draft, the NFL released its 2015 schedule at 8 p.m. today as part of a three-hour special telecast on NFL Network.
"I have to say it's a surprise to me that the release of the schedule has come to be such a big event, but it's great," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "It's something our fans are really interested in, something they anticipate, and it becomes a fun day."
As expected, the Steelers were selected to be the New England Patriots' opponent for the Sept. 10 Thursday night game that serves as the kickoff to the 2015 regular season. The Steelers have hosted this game twice – in 2006 after winning Super Bowl XL and in 2009 after winning Super Bowl XLIII – but this will be the first time they have served as the opponent since the NFL went to this Thursday night format. In 2002, the Steelers did open their season in Foxborough against the defending champion Patriots, but that game was played on a Monday night.
In addition to opening the 2015 regular season for the NFL, the Steelers also will help the league open its 2015 preseason with an appearance in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 9 against the Minnesota Vikings.
"It does indicate that the league believes there are a lot of fans who want to watch our games, and they have put us in a lot of the marquee games, which is a place where we want to be," said Rooney about the Steelers being participants in both of the NFL's opening weekends. "We want to be a team that's in the big games, a team that is able to play in the big games. To be featured in some of those kickoff-the-season-type games, I'm not going to complain about that."
There are some things to complain about, even though Rooney wouldn't do it.
There's the road game in St. Louis that precedes a Thursday night game against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens, and a Monday night game in San Diego that carries with it a red-eye return flight that won't land until most people are already at work Tuesday morning.
"The first thing I always look for is how many night games we have, and particularly how many night games we have on the road," said Rooney. "Unfortunately we're playing in San Diego on a Monday night, which is one of the worst things that can happen to you, as far as I'm concerned. We did, unfortunately, get that assignment. For the most part, I think it's a good schedule, a lot of interesting matchups. Particularly with the home schedule there are a lot of good matchups and not too many late-December games. That's always OK."
The Steelers knew they would be making two trips to the West Coast in 2015 – San Diego and Seattle – and they put in a request with the league for those games to be scheduled on consecutive weekends, with the idea the team would stay out there. That didn't happen, with the game in San Diego being on Monday, Oct. 12 and the game in Seattle falling on Sunday, Nov. 29.
"They tried (to accommodate our request)," said Rooney. "I'll give them credit, they called us a few times with some different scenarios. I know the league did try to accommodate us, and I know there were other teams that had similar requests. It's tough to do. We understood that, and we understood it was probably going to be a long-shot for that to happen."
As for being on the road before a Thursday night game, Rooney would not criticize the league for that either.
Photos from our last meeting with each of our 2015 opponents.
"They at least try to accommodate the teams playing on Thursday night with a game that if it's on the road it's not too far away and it's at 1 p.m.," said Rooney "It really has gotten so complicated to put these schedules together that I know they try, but it's just so difficult. We're glad to have the Thursday night game at home. I'd much rather do that than be on the road on a Thursday night, so we'll live with being away on the Sunday before."
For the second straight year, the Steelers' bye falls late in November – November 22 – and this time the open weekend serves as a line of demarcation. The Steelers face four playoff teams in the 10 weeks before their bye; they face five playoff teams in the six weekends following their bye. And four of those last six games are on the road.
"We have a tough stretch there at the end," said Rooney. "It's going to be necessary for us to be playing our best, and hopefully that will be something where we're in a stretch-run drive as we were last season that will prepare us well going into the playoffs."
One element of this schedule that has become a recurring element of all Steelers schedules of late is the team appearing in the maximum number of primetime kickoffs. The team's five night games in 2015 are at New England, vs. Baltimore, at San Diego, vs. Indianapolis, and at Baltimore.
"We pretty much have come to expect a (maximum) number of primetime games," said Rooney. "It has been pretty consistent over the years that we've gotten the full allotment of primetime games, and it's really a tribute to our fans. The networks understand that when we're on primetime television we get good ratings, and that's because our fans around the country and around the world like to tune in and see us play. Like Coach (Mike) Tomlin says, we wouldn't want to have it any other way."