Strength of schedule: Pittsburgh Steelers

A favorable schedule in 2014, at least on paper, will dovetail with a strong finish to 2013 and fuel optimism that the Pittsburgh Steelers will return to the playoffs following back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

The Steelers play only six games against teams that had winning records last season, with just two of those coming on the road.

Their 16 opponents had a combined winning percentage of .469 in 2013, giving the Steelers the 23rd-ranked schedule in terms of difficulty, according to that measure. That ties them with the Bengals and Saints.

AFC North teams have the good fortune of facing off against their counterparts in the AFC South a season after squads in that division went a combined 24-40. The AFC North also takes on the NFC South, which includes two teams (the Falcons and Buccaneers) that went a combined 8-24.

Only seven teams have an easier schedule than the Steelers based on 2013 records, but two of them are also in the AFC North.

The Browns have the 26th-ranked schedule based on their opponents' .465 combined winning percentage last season, while the Ravens have the 28th-ranked slate (.461).

Steelers fans may want to hold off on making Super Bowl plans just yet based on their 2014 schedule.

Parity drives the NFL and makes it conducive for downtrodden teams to author quick and sometimes dramatic turnarounds.

Witness the Chiefs, who went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 last season.

As inviting as the Steelers' 2014 schedule is on paper, the most significant aspect of it is that Pittsburgh does not play west of the Mississippi River.

The Steelers have not traveled long distances well under coach Mike Tomlin, going 2-7 since 2007 in games played outside of the Eastern and Central time zones.