The Pittsburgh Steelers organization prides itself on stability: same uniforms, same ownership family, same coaches.
Things have changed, though.
Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown—the best running back and wide receiver, respectively, in the NFL over the last half-decade—are gone.
Ben Roethlisberger is still around but has gone through an offseason in which Bell and Brown both threw public jabs and had to have Steelers management come to his defense, which they did, awkwardly, until back-pedaling.
The Steelers team that enters 2019 is in unfamiliar territory. They have a coach on the hot seat, an aging quarterback with his weakest supporting cast in recent memory and drama that seems Brownsian while the actual Cleveland Browns are sleeper Super Bowl contenders.
Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule 2019
Week 1: vs New England Patriots on Sunday, Sept. 8 at 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
Week 2: vs Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Week 3: vs San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 4: vs Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, Sept. 30 at 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Week 5: vs Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 6: vs Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Oct. 13 at 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
Week 7: BYE WEEK
Week 8: vs Miami Dolphins on Monday, Oct. 28 at 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Week 9: vs Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 10: vs Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
Week 11: vs Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Nov. 14 at 8:20 p.m. ET (Fox, NFL Network, Amazon)
Week 12: vs Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 13: vs Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Dec. 1 at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 14: vs Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 15: vs Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 16: vs New York Jets on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 17: vs Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Steelers are tied with the Detroit Lions and Ravens for the 19th-hardest schedule in football, based on their opponents’ 2018 record.
The AFC North plays the AFC East and NFC West in their common games this season. That means three games against the non-New England members of the division—all extremely winnable—and one against the rebuilding Arizona Cardinals.
Aside from those games, the Steelers’ schedule is probably a little more difficult than the numbers indicate.
The San Francisco 49ers should be markedly improved after getting half their roster back from injuries. The Steelers get the luck of hosting the Seahawks and Rams, but they have to travel to New York and New England—the two toughest AFC East matchups.
They also have to travel to the Super Bowl-contending Los Angeles Chargers and host an Indianapolis Colts team that was among the NFL’s best in the second half of the campaign.
Add in a vastly improved Browns team, a full season of Lamar Jackson leading the Ravens and the Bengals finally getting some fresh blood in their coaching staff, and the Steelers could be favored in less than half of their games.
There’s a real chance Pittsburgh is looking at its first losing season since 2003.
Unless the Browns reach their full potential and become 13-3 world beaters, the AFC North is probably going to crown another 10-6 or 11-5 winner.
So the question is how we get there.
The Steelers are the more talented team in road tilts against the Cardinals, Jets and Bengals. If we give them those three wins, getting a fourth against a better or equivalent team will be pivotal.
The 49ers are the next “easiest” road opponent, so that Week 3 trip is an under-the-radar huge game. Jimmy Garoppolo is still unproven as an NFL starter, the 49ers are yet to acquire an elite wide receiver and their defense is a work in progress.
There’s some talent here, and Garoppolo has looked solid in limited action, but it’s a winnable game.
That leaves the Steelers needing six wins at home to get to 10-6 and…yikes, the Rams are going to be Super Bowl favorites again. The Seahawks have found their post-Legion of Boom identity. The Ravens and Browns badly want to be playoff teams in 2019.
And, most importantly, the Steelers are significantly worse than they were a year ago.
The safest bet here is an 8-8 finish.