Pittsburgh Steelers' 2021 schedule: NFL's toughest road awaits

The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9, with the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing host to the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN's Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played Jan. 9, 2022. The playoffs begin Jan. 15, 2022, and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022, at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what in store for the Steelers:


Sept. 12: at Buffalo

Sept. 19: vs. Las Vegas

Sept. 26: vs. Bengals

Oct. 3: at Green Bay

Oct. 10: vs. Denver

Oct. 17: vs. Seattle (SNF)

Oct. 24: BYE

Oct. 31: at Cleveland

Nov. 8: vs. Chicago (MNF)

Nov. 14: vs. Detroit

Nov. 21: at L.A. Chargers (SNF)

Nov. 28: at Cincinnati

Dec. 5: vs. Baltimore

Dec. 9: at Minnesota (TNF)

Dec. 19: vs. Tennessee

Dec. 26: at Kansas City

Jan. 2: vs. Browns

Jan. 9: at Ravens

Strength of schedule: First, .574

Biggest takeaway

The Steelers have the league’s toughest strength of schedule based on opponents’ win-loss records in 2020. Ben Roethlisberger and his surgically-repaired elbow want at least one more shot at a Lombardi Trophy, but to do that, the Steelers will have to end with a four-game gauntlet of Tennessee, Kansas City, Cleveland and Baltimore -- all teams that made the playoffs in 2020.

One storyline to watch

How will the Steelers and 39-year-old Roethlisberger stack up against the rest of the young guns of the AFC North? The Steelers will face Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow twice a year in one of the league’s toughest divisions. Each of the teams only got stronger through the draft and free agency, while the Steelers are trying to eke out one more Super Bowl run with Roethlisberger, an offensive line down three starters and a defense that lost a major piece in Bud Dupree.

What Vegas thinks

Oddsmakers have the Steelers’ win total at 9. Coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh, but to achieve -- or even surpass -- the nine-win total while playing in a juggernaut division, the Steelers need consistent play from Roethlisberger and an improved run game from the one that finished last in the league a season ago. Defensively, the Steelers need Alex Highsmith to play at a high level to complement T.J. Watt, and they need to solidify the third cornerback position following the free agency departure of Mike Hilton.

Bold prediction

The Steelers will go 0-4 to end the season and miss the playoffs in 2021. The team suffered a late-season slump a year ago, losing four of their final five games, including to a woeful Bengals squad. This time around, the Steelers could be facing four juggernauts in Tennessee, Cleveland, Kansas City and Baltimore -- and two of those games are on the road. The Steelers finally made it back to the playoffs in 2020 after missing in back-to-back seasons, but the league’s toughest schedule won’t do them any favors this year.