Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 schedule: Toughest stretch, opponent preview, key matchups, predictions and more


The standard is still the standard. 

Despite facing the NFL’s toughest schedule this season, Mike Tomlin is keeping his team’s sights set on pursuing the franchise’s seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy. If they want to make a Super Bowl run, Pittsburgh will first have to get through a competitive AFC North division that includes two teams that made the playoffs in 2020 in the Ravens and the Browns. Speaking of the Browns, it was Cleveland that staged an upset of Pittsburgh in the wild card round of the 2020 playoffs. 

The Steelers are a different team from the one that lost five of their last six games in 2020. They acquired several key players in the draft that includes running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth, offensive linemen Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr., linebacker Buddy Johnson pass rusher Quincy Roche. The Steelers were also able to re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster, the team’s leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions since the start of the 2017 season. Pittsburgh also restructured the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, thus allowing him to return for what could be his final season.  

While several key players are gone, Pittsburgh’s roster still includes some of the NFL’s most talented veterans. That list includes Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster, receivers Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, guard David DeCastro, tight end Eric Ebron, defensive linemen Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, linebackers T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, and Vince Williams, cornerback Joe Haden, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. This nucleus helped the Steelers roll to an 11-0 start last year before injuries, a grueling slate in the schedule (Pittsburgh was forced to play three games in a 12-day span), dropped passes and a lack of a running game led to en early playoff exit. The Steelers focused on plugging their biggest holes this offseason while also minimizing some of their losses. The result is what should be a vastly improved rushing attack but a questionable pass defense. 

Pittsburgh continues to be led by Tomlin, who in his 14 years on the job has never posted a losing season. Throughout that time, Tomlin has worked in concert with general manager Kevin Colbert, whose eye for talent has helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls, three AFC titles and 10 division titles during his 21 years with the organization. The duo is hoping that their current roster is good enough to post another winning season while keeping pace with the other top teams in the conference, many of which the Steelers will see during the regular season. 

William Hill Sportsbook has the Steelers’ Over/Under set at 9 games, which was the same projection the Steelers received last offseason. Below, you can check out my week-by-week breakdown and predictions of every game game on Pittsburgh’s 2021 schedule, including each team’s Over/Under set by William Hill. But first, let’s take a look at several notable takeaways from the Steelers’ schedule as well as pinpointing the toughest part of their upcoming journey. 

Need a quick betting primer on your favorite NFL team for the 2021 season? Here are links to schedule breakdowns for all 32 clubs.

Key schedule observations

  • Pittsburgh’s opponents posted a cumulative .574 winning percentage in 2020, making the Steelers’ schedule the NFL’s hardest
  • 10 games against 2020 playoff teams  
  • Five prime-time games that include a Week 17 playoff rematch against the visiting Browns
  • Week 7 bye
  • Five of Steelers last six games are against 2020 playoff teams 

Toughest stretch

Pittsburgh’s Week 13-18 stretch is a daunting one. It starts with a home game against the Ravens before heading to Minnesota for a Thursday night matchup with the Vikings. From there, the Steelers host the reigning AFC South champion Titans before going to Kansas City to face the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs. Pittsburgh will then host the Browns on “Monday Night Football” before closing out the regular season in Baltimore. 

On to the predictions:

Buffalo Bills  

Week 1 – Monday, Sept. 12 
Location: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, New York) 
Time: 1 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 13-3
Series record: 16-11 (Steelers lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 10.5 

For a seventh straight year, the Steelers will start the season on the road. In Week 14 of the 2020 season, the Steelers took an early lead before the Bills’ defense took over in what was eventually a 26-15 win for the home team. The Bills will be favored, but something is telling me that the Steelers’ new offensive game plan (with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada) could help Pittsburgh catch Buffalo off guard. The Steelers’ defense will also be out to prove that they are still one of the NFL’s best units after losing Bud Dupree this offseason. That being said, I’m still picking the Bills in what should be one of the better 1 p.m. games on the NFL’s Week 1 slate. 

Prediction: Bills 20, Steelers 16

Las Vegas Raiders  

Week 2 – Sunday, Sept. 19 
Location: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) 
Time: 1 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 8-8
Series record: 16-13 (Raiders lead)  
Opponent win total: O/U 7.5

The Steelers will host what is expected to be a sellout Heinz Field crowd for the first time in over two years. Inspired by the home crowd, Pittsburgh beats its old rival behind Roethlisberger and his deep receiving corps. Harris should also have success against a Las Vegas defense that finished just 24th in the league in rushing in 2020. The Steelers’ defense — a unit that has had issues against tight ends in the past — will surely be dialed in on Darren Waller, who has caught 197 passes over the past two seasons. For that reason, the return of Bush (who missed most of last season with a torn ACL) is big in this matchup. 

Prediction: Steelers 28, Raiders 17

Cincinnati Bengals   

First Meeting: Week 3 (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh) – Sunday, Sept. 26, 1 p.m. ET 
Second Meeting: Week 12 (Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati) – Nov. 28, 1 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 4-11-1
Series record: 67-36 (Steelers lead)
Opponent win total: O/U 6.5

Pittsburgh split its two games against the Cincinnati in 2020. They defeated the Bengals with relative ease (36-10) in Week 10 before losing to a Ryan Finley-led Bengals team in Cincinnati in Week 15. The Bengals made a few roster improvements that includes the signing of pass rusher Trey Hendrickson and rookies Ja’Marr Chase, Jackson Carman, and Joseph Ossai. The Bengals’ biggest question is whether or not quarterback Joe Burrow can stay healthy for an entire season. If he can, Burrow should be able to help the Bengals get closer toward respectability in his second pro season. That being said, I don’t see Burrow’s first win against the Steelers occurring in 2021. Assuming they’re relatively healthy for both matchups, the Steelers are simply a deeper, more talented team that has largely had their way with the Bengals during Big Ben’s career. The Bengals’ deep receiving corps is something Steelers fans should be leery of in both matchups. 

Week 3 Prediction: Steelers 31, Bengals 16

Week 12 Prediction: Steelers 24, Bengals 20

Green Bay Packers 

Week 5 – Sunday, Oct. 3
Location: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisconsin)
Time: 4:25 p.m. 
2020 record: 13-3
Series record: 19-16 (Packers)
Opponent win total: O/U 11

Assuming Aaron Rodgers is still in Green Bay, this is a classic battle between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Big Ben and Rodgers split their first two matchups that includes the Packers’ 31-25 win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Roethlisberger should manage to have success against Green Bay’s suspect pass defense, but the Steelers may struggle to contain Rodgers’ and Green Bay’s formidable passing attack, led by perennial Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams. 

Prediction: Packers 28, Steelers 20

Denver Broncos  

Week 5 – Sunday, Oct. 10
Location: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) 
Time: 1 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 5-11
Series record: 21-12-1 (Broncos lead)
Opponent win total: O/U 7.5

The Steelers, despite Drew Lock suffering an injury in the first quarter, needed a late defensive stand to clinch a 26-21 win over the visiting Broncos in Week 2 of the 2020 season. Pittsburgh specifically had issues containing the Broncos’ receivers that included Courtland Sutton (three catches, 66 yards), Jerry Jeudy (four catches, 62 yards) and tight end Noah Fant (four catches, 57 yards, one touchdown). Expect the Steelers to keep their foot on the gas pedal this time, as T.J. Watt and the rest of Pittsburgh’s defense look to feast on a Broncos offense that was just 28th in the league in scoring last season. 

Prediction: Steelers 27, Broncos 17

Seattle Seahawks  

Week 6 – Sunday, Oct. 17
Location: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) 
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET (Sunday Night Football) 
2020 record: 12-4
Series record: 10-9 (Seahawks lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 9.5

The Steelers have been exceptionally good under Tomlin on prime time games, especially at home. They have also been historically good in games heading into a bye. All of this being said, I don’t see the Steelers riding into their bye with a 5-1 record. The Steelers’ offense should be able to take advantage of a Seahawks pass defense that was 31st in the NFL in 2020. Furthermore, Pittsburgh’s pass rush should be able to apply consistent pressure on Russell Wilson, who was taken down 47 times last season. The difference in the Steelers winning and losing this game may come down to containing Wilson and receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. If the Steelers allow Wilson to make Houdini-like plays, they’ll head into their bye with a loss. 

Prediction: Seahawks, 28-24

Cleveland Browns   

First meeting: Week 8 (FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland) – Sunday, Oct. 31, 1 p.m. ET 
Second meeting: Week 17 (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh) – Sunday, Jan. 3, 8:20 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 11-5 
Series Record: 77-61-1 (Steelers lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 10

Already one of the league’s best rosters, Cleveland added to it this offseason with the signings of former Rams defensive backs Troy Hill and John Johnson. The Browns furthered strengthened their secondary with the selection of rookie Greg Newsome II. Cleveland’s offense is welcoming back former Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who returns to a Cleveland offense that also includes receiver Jarvis Landry, quarterback Baker Mayfield and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Oh, the Browns’ roster also includes one of the NFL’s premier pass-rushers in Myles Garrett. 

Long gone are the days where the Steelers fans could check off both games against the Browns as wins. In fact, you can call a split in this year’s season series with Cleveland a success for Pittsburgh. The Steelers, assuming Harris and company can take advantage of Cleveland’s somewhat suspect interior defensive line, should be able to get a split against their longtime division rival. 

Week 8 Prediction: Browns, 24-20
Week 17 Prediction: Steelers, 20-17

Chicago Bears   

Week 9 – Sunday, No. 8 
Location: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) 
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET (Monday Night Football) 
2020 record: 8-8 
Series record: 19-7-1 (Bears lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 7.5

The Steelers don’t play the Bears too often, but they are very familiar with Chicago starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who spent nine seasons as the starter in Cincinnati. Dalton is a solid player, but the Steelers’ pass rush should be able to get him off of his game. On offense, the key will be containing the Bears’ ferocious linebacker corps, led by Khalil Mack. By this point in the season, the Steelers’ offense should be coming into form, which would be bad news for Mack and the rest of Chicago’s defense. 

Prediction: Steelers 35, Bears 17 

Detroit Lions   

Week 10 – Sunday, No. 14
Location: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) 
Time: 1 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 5-11 
Series record: 17-14 (Steelers lead)  
Opponent win total: O/U 5

As long as they take care of the ball, the Steelers shouldn’t have too many issues against the Lions. One matchup worth keeping an eye on is Lions rookie right tackle Penei Sewell against Steelers second-year pass rusher Alex Highsmith. Highsmith and his defensive teammates will also look to contain second-year running back D’Andre Swift while making Detroit’s offense one-dimensional. Offensively, Big Ben should be able to take advantage of what was the NFL’s 32nd ranked scoring defense in 2020. 

Prediction: Steelers, 31-13

Los Angeles Chargers

Week 11 – Sunday, No. 21
Location: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, California)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET (Sunday Night Football) 
2020 record: 7-9 
Series record: 24-10 (Steelers lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 9

The Steelers will get their first look at Justin Herbert, the reigning Rookie of the Year who led the Chargers to four straight wins to close out the 2020 season. Pittsburgh, after losing Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton this offseason, may struggle against teams that have talented receiving duos. This will be the case in Los Angeles, where the Chargers boast one of the NFL’s top receiving duos in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Steelers will also have to contain Austin Ekeler, one of the league’s most versatile running backs. Offensively, Pittsburgh must keep Joey Bosa away from Roethlisberger, which will be a collaborative effort.  

Prediction: Chargers 24, Steelers 17 

Baltimore Ravens 

First meeting: Week 13 (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh) – Sunday, Dec. 5, 4:25 p.m. ET 
Second meeting: Week 18 (M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore) – Sunday, Jan. 3, 8:20 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 11-5 
Series Record: 30-20 (Steelers lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 11

While it’s a short sample size (two games), Lamar Jackson has yet to have a big game against the Steelers’ defense. Baltimore did give Jackson more weapons for his future matchups against Pittsburgh that includes veteran receiver Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman. The Ravens signed a former Steelers’ starter — offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva — to help replace Orlando Brown. Baltimore still possesses the league’s top rushing attack, led by second-year running back J.K. Dobbins. Defensively, the Ravens lost several big name players but still have several studs that include defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell, nose tackle Brandon Williams, and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Baltimore’s has a young but promising inside linebacker duo in Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. 

Jackson and Baltimore’s offense will make their share of plays, so these matchups will likely come down to how successful the Steelers’ offense can be against the Ravens’ defense. This is where Harris can make a sizable difference as it relates to keeping Pittsburgh’s offense balanced. If Harris and the Steelers’ running game can hold their own against the Ravens, that will open things up for Roethlisberger and the passing game. Big Ben should be able to take advantage of the middle of Baltimore’s defense. Furthermore, he should be able to convert on some deep shots against the Ravens’ underwhelming safeties. The Ravens are among the AFC’s best teams, but the Steelers are good enough to split the season series against their arch rival. 

Week 13 Prediction: Ravens 23, Steelers 20 

Week 18 Prediction: Steelers 19, Ravens 17

Minnesota Vikings   

Week 14 – Sunday Dec. 9
Location: U.S. Back Stadium (Minneapolis) 
Time: 8:20 p.m. (Thursday Night Football) 
2020 record: 7-9 
Series record: 9-9
Opponent win total: O/U 8.5

While this smells like a loss, I’m predicting a surprise win for the Steelers, who will be motivated following a loss at home to Baltimore four days earlier. Pittsburgh’s offense should have success against a defense that finished 29th in the league in scoring last season. The key matchup here is the Steelers’ defense against the Vikings’ talented offensive trio of running back Dalvin Cook (1,557 rushing yards in just 14 games in 2020) and receivers Justin Jefferson (1,400 receiving yards last season) and Adam Thielen (14 touchdown receptions in 2020). The Steelers didn’t beat Seattle heading into their bye, but a win here would give them 10 days off before facing their next opponent. 

Prediction: Steelers 19, Vikings 13 

Tennessee Titans

Week 16 – Sunday, Dec. 19
Location: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) 
Time: 1 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 11-5 
Series record: 47-32 (Steelers lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 9.5

Pittsburgh streaked out to a 27-7 lead in Nashville in Week 7 of the 2020 season before hanging on for a 27-24 win. The Steelers enjoyed days from Johnson and Smith-Schuster, who caught a combined 18 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh will likely need more from their running game this time around, however, as the Steelers’ lack of a running game limited them to just three points during the second half of last year’s matchup. Defensively, the focus will be on containing two-time league rushing champion Derrick Henry, who was held to 75 yards in last year’s meeting. The Titans are considered a legitimate threat to come out of the AFC, but the Steelers should be able to take care of business at home before heading on the road to face what has been the conference’s best team over the past two years. 

Prediction: Steelers 20, Titans 17 

Kansas City Chiefs 

Week 16 – Sunday, Dec. 26
Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Missouri) 
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET 
2020 record: 14-2 
Series record: 23-12 (Steelers lead) 
Opponent win total: O/U 12

In their first matchup (Week 2 of the 2018 season), Roethlisberger and Mahomes combined to throw for 778 yards and nine touchdowns in the Chiefs’ 42-37 win in Pittsburgh. Given that this game will be played in Kansas City the day after Christmas, don’t expect a similar output from these quarterbacks. If weather is a factor, that may benefit Harris and the Steelers, who are hoping that an improved rushing attack can help Pittsburgh have more late-season success than in recent seasons. Like many games on their schedule, this game may ultimately come down to how well Pittsburgh’s secondary does an above-average passing attack. In this case, it’s the NFL’s best quarterback and a receiving corps that features Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Pittsburgh could certainly pull off an upset, but it would be something of a Christmas Miracle. 

Prediction: Chiefs 27, Steelers 17

Steelers 2020 season projection
Final record: 10-7
Final conference record: 7-5 
Final division record: 4-2 





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