2016 Pittsburgh Steelers game-by-game predictions

The Pittsburgh Steelers will run into a few surprises in 2016, including two losses to much-improved NFC East teams, but overall this team is better positioned to take ownership of the AFC North than a year ago. Here's how 2016 might unfold for Pittsburgh.

Week 1: Monday, Sept. 12 at Washington Redskins, 7:10 p.m. ET

The Steelers have won their last five matchups with the Redskins, including a win over then-rookie Robert Griffin III in 2012. The Redskins will look organized offensively, and expect tight end Jordan Reed to be a problem for Pittsburgh's linebackers, but the Steelers will want a cleaner prime-time debut than in last year's loss to the New England Patriots. Le'Veon Bell returns in his first game from a torn medial collateral ligament and does his damage as a pass-catcher up the middle. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

The Steelers will have a quick turnaround for a game both sides have been waiting eight months to play. The most physical yet least penalized team wins. Surprisingly, the league decided to schedule these two for when Vontaze Burfict served a three-game suspension. The loss of Burfict, coupled with changes in the secondary and lack of wide-receiver depth, doom the Bengals late in the fourth quarter. The Steelers revel in the perceived little-brother edge over Cincy, for now. Record: 2-0

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25, at Philadelphia Eagles, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Steelers oddly have struggled in Philadelphia, losing their past eight games there, including an average of 13.3 points per game scored in their past three trips. The franchise's last victory in Philly came in 1965. The offense should fare better than in previous matchups, but new Eagles coach Doug Pederson benefits from history. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 8:30 p.m. ET

With a talented secondary, good edge rushers and Travis Kelce, Kansas City has a favorable matchup with Pittsburgh. It showed in the Chiefs' win in Arrowhead last year. The Steelers will move the ball on offense and keep the score manageable on defense, but this is the kind of game where they'll miss Heath Miller, who was a safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger over the middle when coverage downfield is tight. New tight end Ladarius Green might need until Week 6 or so to find his groove in the offense. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

The Steelers will be ornery because of the slow start and will take it out on poor Geno Smith (or Ryan Fitzpatrick or whomever) with several early-game sacks on a sunny day in Heinz Field. The matchup to watch is Antonio Brown against Darrelle Revis, who last played a game against Pittsburgh in the 2010 postseason. Revis turns 31 this offseason but will still have the savvy to make things interesting against Brown. The matchup won't matter because the Steelers' defense finally breaks out after a sluggish start. Record: 3-2

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16 at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

This could be a heat-check game for the revamped secondary. If it can't contain Ryan Tannehill, things probably aren't going so smoothly. But the Fins have run out of good corners, a reality Roethlisberger and the Steelers will expose. The Steelers are 32-26 all time against NFL franchises in the state of Florida (Bucs, Jaguars, Dolphins). Miami is the team's only 2016 road trip of less than 400 miles driving distance. Record: 4-2

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23 vs. New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Steelers will love having the Patriots at their place for the headsets alone. But they also want another crack at New England after having chances to win in Foxborough while playing without Bell and Martavis Bryant. Roethlisberger will be up for the task of matching wits with Tom Brady. Gronk will go off again but the Steelers will sell out to prevent his third touchdown attempt late. Record: 5-2

Week 8: BYE

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6 at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

The Steelers will be eager to avenge the Ravens' surprise Week 16 win that nearly left Pittsburgh out of the AFC playoffs last year. The Steelers have lost three straight games at M&T Stadium, and with the Ravens coming off an 11-loss season, now is the time to dash that mini-streak. Record: 6-2

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13 vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET

Occasionally the Steelers will lose a game they shouldn't. It happens. The Cowboys, much improved from the previous year, bulldoze their way to 100-plus rushing yards on the road to curb the Steelers' midseason momentum. These two have combined for 11 Super Bowls and played beautiful football against each other in the '70s. But this week the Steelers are sluggish after taking a pounding in Baltimore the week before. Record: 6-3

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20 at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

Roethlisberger is 20-2 against Cleveland, the team that passed on him in the 2004 NFL draft with the sixth overall pick. Since that draft, the Browns have started 20 different quarterbacks. They will undoubtedly start the 21st with this game, either Robert Griffin III or Jared Goff/Carson Wentz through the draft. New QB, same result. Record: 7-3

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 24 at Indianapolis Colts, 8:30 p.m.

The Steelers can give thanks to the Colts' defense, which is still recovering from the 96 combined points it has given up in back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger has been especially hot in those games, throwing for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. Even if the Colts make improvements defensively, this is still a bad matchup for them. This is the eighth Thanksgiving Day game in franchise history. Record: 8-3

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4 vs. New York Giants, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Steelers have no one who can cover Odell Beckham Jr., but the Giants' scarcity of proven weapons around Beckham and Eli Manning will limit the team in the fourth quarter of this close matchup. A win here creates space in the AFC North race, and the Steelers know they need this one. The Giants' revamped defense keeps this tight, but it won't be enough. Record: 9-3

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11 at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET

Things can get weird in Buffalo. Sometimes Rex Ryan's defense plays out of its mind and the game is over before it starts. The Steelers channel their 2015 Baltimore performance and struggle mightily on this below-freezing day. Tyrod Taylor doesn't pass for much yardage but makes things happen with his legs. Record: 9-4

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18 at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:30 p.m. ET

Now things get interesting. The Bengals discover their best football under the prime-time lights and inch one game closer to a playoff berth. Burfict actually plays a clean, sound football game. Both teams are beat up by the end as Mike Nugent decides it with a 30-yarder as time expires. Bengals bait Roethlisberger into a deep-ball interception. See you in the playoffs. Record: 9-5

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 25 vs. Baltimore Ravens, 4:30 p.m. ET

Sensing the season is reeling, the Steelers put a heat check on Baltimore's improved secondary with several deep shots, collecting 100-plus passing yards in the first quarter to set the tone. The Ravens have crept above .500 by this point but can't get a pass rush on Roethlisberger. The Steelers' offensive line plays its best game of the season. Record: 10-5

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

Cleveland knows this routine -- they play hard but are gassed by this point of the season. They made improvements under Hue Jackson. Still, the Steelers have a home game with a below-.500 team to clinch a divisional crown. They handle business. Record: 11-5