2017 Pittsburgh Steelers game-by-game predictions

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the roster and the schedule to qualify for a fourth consecutive AFC playoff spot. But first, questions about the defense and the complementary passing game behind Antonio Brown must be answered. This will happen against the backdrop of an unfriendly late-season slate of games.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

Playing the Browns has a way of cleansing the Steelers' soul. Pittsburgh has won 24 of its past 27 over Cleveland, which should improve from last year’s one-win campaign. That improvement won’t be enough. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

The best way to combat Ben Roethlisberger is with a filthy front seven. Mike Zimmer’s defense will gladly oblige. But Big Ben has been good for at least three passing touchdowns per home game over the past two years, and the Vikings won’t have enough offense to keep pace. Record: 2-0

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

Wins over the Bears haven’t come easily for Pittsburgh, which has split the series over the past 10 matchups. But Pittsburgh’s defense generally holds up well against middle-tier quarterbacks, and the Bears are in transition mode. Chicago winds won’t be a factor in late September as the offense tries to pick up its once-sluggish road play Record: 3-0

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

The Ravens are still salty over that Week 16 collapse in Pittsburgh. Baltimore has produced 57 points in its past four games in Baltimore (14.3 per game). If the vaunted Ravens front contains Le'Veon Bell, the high-priced safety tandem of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson can go to work on the passing game. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET

Jacksonville understands how to play Pittsburgh tough. The past five matchups have been decided by an average of 5.2 points per game. The Jaguars get up for the Steelers. But they don’t know how to close. Why will this year be different? Record: 4-1

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, at Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Chiefs’ terrific red-zone defense held the Steelers to six field goals and no touchdowns in the playoffs. This time, their offense does enough through the air with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to keep Pittsburgh’s secondary honest. Record: 4-2

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

The Bengals’ offensive line looks unconvincing on paper. The Steelers should take advantage with an improved pass rush. These two clash on Monday Night Football in December, but expect the Steelers to utilize their tight ends and slot receivers to try to win this matchup. That worked in the past two games against Cincy. Record: 5-2

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, at Detroit Lions, 8:30 p.m. ET

This is the first of three dome games for Pittsburgh, which Ben Roethlisberger won’t mind. In the past three dome games, Roethlisberger is 61-for-79 passing. Detroit’s 19th-ranked passing defense could struggle here. But Matthew Stafford sends the Steelers into the bye a loser with a few big plays in the passing game. Record: 5-3

Week 9: Bye

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

The Steelers have done some mean things to the Colts, who have allowed 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions to Roethlisberger in the past three matchups, all Indy losses. Three of those touchdowns went to Brown in last season’s game. The Colts’ defense should improve, plus Andrew Luck will likely be in the lineup this time around, but this matchup just suits the Steelers. Record: 6-3

Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 16, vs. Tennessee Titans, 8:25 p.m. ET

Marcus Mariota's combination of quick decision-making and athleticism will present a challenge for Pittsburgh, which also must stop the Titans’ potent running attack. Expect a track meet. Tennessee comes alive in its biggest prime-time moment in years. Record: 6-4

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, vs. Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET

The storied franchises with top-shelf quarterbacks have played each other tightly in three matchups from 2009-13. This one should promise more of the same. Green Bay’s leaky pass defense will be the difference. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Monday, Dec. 4, at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:30 p.m. ET

Paul Brown Stadium is basically the Steelers’ home-field advantage. They love playing there. But expect a crisper Bengals team than the ones known to crumble the past few years. Cincinnati’s cornerbacks almost always play Pittsburgh’s receivers tightly. The physicality will result in at least one turnover. Record: 7-5

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, Baltimore Ravens, 8:30 p.m. ET

Most physical team wins this run-first matchup. The Steelers’ defensive rebuild is nearly complete, and it will be tested against Baltimore’s always stout offensive line. But the winter is Bell’s favorite time of year. He’ll carry the ball 30 times to seal this game while the defense does its part. Record: 8-5

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, vs. New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m. ET

Cue the remember-how-Tom-Brady-torches-the-Steelers stats. Brady’s 22 touchdowns to zero interceptions in his past seven games against Pittsburgh loom large here, no matter the home-field advantage. You've got to like the Steelers’ chances as a team eager to erase last year’s AFC title game loss. But that won’t be enough to offset those numbers. Record: 8-6

Week 16: Monday, Dec. 25, at Houston Texans, 4:30 p.m. ET

The Texans will follow their script -- fringe playoff team going on its fourth quarterback of the season. Houston’s loaded defense will cause havoc up front and force the Steelers into a run-heavy attack that will control the pace, and secure a playoff spot, in a low-scoring affair. Record: 9-6

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

The Browns’ dreadful two-year stretch removed any suspense from the last two Cleveland-Pittsburgh finales. This year won’t be any different if the Browns are once again among the league’s worst. Pittsburgh could be resting starters if a playoff spot is clinched. Record: 10-6