Strength of schedule likely a misnomer for the 2021 Steelers

There are a lot of fans who have already saw that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the toughest strength of schedule for the upcoming 2021 season. The strength of schedule is predicated on a team’s opponents this year – based on what they (the opponents) did last year.

Therefore, it’s not always an accurate depiction of how difficult, or easy, the road ahead might be. Teams always have changeover each year. Free agents leave. Free agents arrive. Coaching staffs are shaped and rookies are also added, as veterans age one more year.

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Due to the amount of roster changes in the offseason, some teams improve through the NFL Draft and free agency acquisitions while others watch their top talents depart for greener pastures elsewhere… and thus become weaker than they were. Then there’s also the Cinderella or one-hit wonders who have a great season and then flop.

Predicting how hard or easy a schedule is based off of a team’s 2020 record is misleading until those teams finally get on the field and show us who they are.

Yet, we’re still going to talk about it. So, let’s talk about it: the Steelers have the toughest projected schedule, but the Baltimore Ravens are sitting next with the second-strongest.

The next three teams in the top five are all opponents of the Steelers and Ravens too: the Bears, Lions, and Bengals.

Yes, the Bengals, despite finishing at the bottom of the AFC North in 2020, boast the fifth-hardest schedule. The Minnesota Vikings are just outside with the sixth.

It may make sense that the 12-4 Steelers and 11-5 Ravens face equally tough talent due to their first and second place finishes in their division – but why are the Bears (8-8), Lions (5-11), Bengals (4-11-1) and Vikings (7-9) along for the ride?

It has to do with common opponents.

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The AFC North faces the NFC North, at a time where both divisions had at least two playoff teams make it in 2020. Even the Vikings, who finished 7-9, hold a better record than most of the third-place finishing teams amongst the rest of the league’s divisions (such as the 6-10 Cowboys, 5-11 Panthers, and 4-12 Texans).

The divisions which drew AFC South as their opposition in 2021 shoot to the bottom of the difficulty scale, with the 1-15 Jaguars (who held the worst record last season) tipping the scales toward an easy schedule.

Yet, the Jaguars have a new coach, the top overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, penciled in at quarterback and spent a boatload of money during free agency to improve their roster.

In other words, they are far from the same team this year, but are still considered an “easy” opponent at this time due to their 2020 finish.

The AFC North also faces the AFC West, which is one of three divisions that saw all of their teams win at least five games in 2020 – the others being the aforementioned NFC North and the NFC West.

The AFC North fell short of that metric with the Bengals having one tie game too, and since the division teams play one another twice, for a total of six games, you now have a strength of schedule based on three of the division’s franchises all making the postseason in 2020, sending the strength of schedule into the stratosphere for the Steelers and the Ravens.

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What makes this even more preposterous for those who buy into SOS is that last year’s difficulty was ranked dead last for the AFC North teams. The Steelers were listed as having the easiest schedule with the Browns and Ravens near the bottom too.

If those teams had the easiest schedules last season… and won those games because they were “easy”… that now makes their improved records (against “easy” competition) “difficult” for the Steelers and Ravens in 2021!

If you said yikes along with me, then yikes is right.

There’s no logical way that beating up on easy teams makes for a tougher opponent in 2021, if all things were considered equal carrying over from season-to-season. Since we already know that’s not the case, strength of schedule can be tossed out the window – and that’s before we even start seeing star players get injured, or maybe even traded (i.e. Aaron Rodgers) which could send things on a different tilt overnight with sportsbooks and oddsmakers.

Therefore, fans should take the SOS with a grain of salt. It’s a fun concept to discuss when there’s hardly any other football news at this time. However, it is almost never indicative of how a team performs when they finally meet on the gridiron.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Schedule

1 Sept. 12 @ Bills 1:00 PM ET CBS
2 Sept. 19 vs. Raiders 1:00 PM ET CBS
3 Sept. 26 vs. Bengals 1:00 PM ET CBS
4 Oct. 3 @ Packers 4:25 PM ET CBS
5 Oct. 10 vs. Broncos 1:00 PM ET FOX
6 Oct. 17 vs. Seahawks 8:20 PM ET NBC
8 Oct. 31 @ Browns 1:00 PM ET CBS
9 Nov. 8 vs. Bears 8:15 PM ET ESPN
10 Nov. 14 vs. Lions 1:00 PM ET FOX
11 Nov. 21 @ Chargers 8:20 PM ET NBC
12 Nov. 28 @ Bengals 1:00 PM ET CBS
13 Dec. 5 vs. Ravens 4:25 PM ET CBS
14 Dec. 9 @ Vikings 8:20 PM ET FOX/NFLN/AMAZON
15 Dec. 19 vs. Titans 1:00 PM ET CBS
16 Dec. 26 @ Chiefs 4:25 PM ET CBS
17 Jan. 3 vs. Browns 8:15 PM ET ESPN
18 Jan. 9 @ Ravens 1:00 PM ET CBS

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