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5 for Friday: Yes, the schedule matters

There seems to be a small, but vocal, group of people who treat the NFL schedule release as if it's no big deal.

They make fun of those who pay any attention to the schedule release, as if it's cool not to care about when your favorite team plays.

Yes, everyone knows the opponents. But to act as if when you play those opponents doesn't matter is, well, trying to be too cool for school.

Fact of the matter is, the schedule does matter.

For example, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is coming back off a torn ACL. He's unlikely to be ready to play at the start of the season, meaning teams that play the Cardinals early in the season will likely face veteran Colt McCoy or rookie Clayton Tune under center.

And that's just one instance.

How many short weeks does a schedule include? And how many of those short weeks involve a short week coming off or heading onto the road?

The schedule matters.

For the Steelers, this year's schedule is rated the 25th-most difficult based on how their 2023 opponents finished last season. Now, that certainly can change from year to year, but it's a far different story than what the Steelers faced the previous two seasons, when their schedule was rated one of the two most-difficult in the NFL.

When you look at not only who you play, but when you play them, you start to get a better sense of what a season could look like – barring massive injuries, of course.

• So, how do things look for the Steelers' schedule?


As mentioned, the Steelers play the 25th-toughest schedule in the NFL. And outside of the three-game gauntlet the team must face to close things out – at home against Cincinnati Dec. 23, then at Seattle and Baltimore to close out the season – it sets up well.

Three of the team's four prime time games are at home, including a pair of Thursday night games, Nov. 2 against the Titans and Dec. 7 against the Patriots.

The Steelers also are at home leading into both of those Thursday night games. So, not only do they get to host both Thursday night contests, they aren't coming off road games to do so.

Their only night road game happens to be Sept. 24 in Las Vegas against the Raiders, a game in which the visiting venue promises to be overrun with fans wearing black and gold.

And the middle of the schedule sets up really well.

After an Oct. 22 game at Los Angeles against the Rams, the Steelers spent the next seven weeks playing at home or in the state of Ohio.

Even an early stretch that sees them play three out of four games on the road from Sept. 24 through Oct. 22 is broken up by a Week 6 bye.

The schedule shouldn't be a factor in this team getting worn down.

• Outside of the three AFC North opponents, the Steelers most difficult home game would appear to be the one against the San Francisco 49ers.

But the Steelers might have even caught a break in that game.

They'll host the 49ers Sept. 10 in Week 1.

Given the status of both Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, both of whom are coming off injuries, it's not a stretch to think the 49ers could be starting third-stringer Sam Darnold in that game.

And even if that's not the case, Lance, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury last September, has made four career starts. Purdy, who tore the UCL in his throwing elbow in last season's NFC Championship, has made eight career starts, including the playoffs.

It remains to be seen how much preseason work Purdy or Lance get this year coming off those injuries.

You'd much rather face the 49ers early rather than later in the year.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast