I know the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most stable franchises in the NFL. When they hire a head coach, he tends to stay there for many years. But I believe that Mike Tomlin would have been in major trouble last season had his team struggled. Pittsburgh was coming off back-to-back 8-8 campaigns, missing the playoffs in both. Another season like that and I think the Steelers had to at least think about making a move -- hey, Bill Cowher is available!
But behind the best offense in franchise history, including career seasons from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers won the very competitive AFC North for the first time since 2010. Alas, they were upset at home in the wild-card round by Baltimore, but Tomlin seems safe now and Big Ben got a big new contract extension. Things are different in the Steel City now -- this club will be known for offense, not defense..
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The Steelers were 5-3 on the road last season, 4-4 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under." Their 2015 road schedule ranks as the second-hardest in the NFL (behind Seattle) with an opponents' 2014 combined winning percentage of .590.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds. I am a little shocked that Pittsburgh is an opening dog in all of them except for Week 17, but it is a really tough schedule.
Sept. 10 -- at Patriots (-3): This line for the Thursday night overall season opener has been all over the place. New England opened as high as -6.5 then it dropped to as low as a pick'em when Tom Brady's suspension was announced. So now clearly the Patriots are taking nice action as some believe Brady's suspension will be lifted. I disagree and believe he misses at least this game. No Bell here for Pittsburgh. The Pats embarrassed the visiting Steelers in the last meeting, 55-31 in Week 9 of 2013. The Patriots' 610 yards were the most ever allowed by Pittsburgh. Steelers win here if no Brady. Key trend: Steelers 6-4 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 3 points.
Sept. 27 -- at Rams (-1): Pittsburgh is off a game at home against the 49ers, while St. Louis is in Washington in Week 2. This would be Bell's final game of his suspension. Maybe he gets it knocked down to two games. That wouldn't shock me. The Steelers have won two straight against the Rams, last in 2011. If no Bell, I'd lean St. Louis. Key trend: Steelers 5-5 ATS in past 10 at NFC West.
Oct. 12 -- at Chargers (-1): This is a Monday night matchup, the Steelers' only one of the season, and they will have extra time to prepare as they play in Week 4 at home on Thursday vs. Baltimore. San Diego is off a home game vs. Cleveland. This could be Pittsburgh's last trip to San Diego if the Bolts move to Los Angeles. Teams haven't met since 2012. I think Pittsburgh wins here. Key trend: Steelers 5-3 ATS at Chargers.
Oct. 25 -- at Chiefs (-1): Pittsburgh off a Week 6 home game vs. Arizona, while Kansas City is in Minnesota the previous Sunday. Teams played in Pittsburgh in Week 16 last season, a 20-12 Steelers win to clinch a playoff berth. Roethlisberger threw for 220 yards and a score. The Steelers defense had six sacks. I like K.C. here. Key trend: Steelers 1-9 ATS in past 10 at AFC West.
Nov. 29 -- at Seahawks (-5.5): Huge gap between home games for the Steelers as they have a three-game homestand following the Chiefs and then their bye week ahead of this. Seattle is off a Week 11 home game vs. San Francisco. Certainly could see this matchup again in Super Bowl 50. Of course, we did in Super Bowl XL, Big Ben's first title. Steelers haven't been to Seattle since 2003. Like Seahawks here. Key trend: Steelers 5-5 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Dec. 13 -- at Bengals (-1): Pittsburgh is off a Week 13 home game vs. Indianapolis, while Cincinnati is in Cleveland that week. Steelers won 42-21 in Cincinnati in Week 14 last season to begin a four-game winning streak. Pittsburgh was down 21-17 entering the fourth. Roethlisberger had three TD passes and 350 yards overall, including a 94-yarder to Martavis Bryant, and Bell had 185 yards rushing, 50 receiving and three total touchdowns. I lean Pittsburgh here. Key trend: Steelers 6-4 ATS in past 10 as dog at Cincy.
Dec. 27 -- at Ravens (-2): Pittsburgh off its home finale in Week 15 vs. Denver, while Baltimore is home to Kansas City the previous Sunday. This is a Sunday night game. Steelers played one of their worst games of 2014 in Week 2 at Baltimore on a Thursday, falling 26-6 -- a rare blowout between these teams. Roethlisberger completed 22 of 37 passes for 217 yards and a pick. It was the first time since Nov. 26, 2006, that Baltimore held Pittsburgh without a touchdown. Ravens lean here. Key trend: Steelers also 6-4 ATS in past 10 as dog at Baltimore.
Jan. 3 -- at Browns (TBA): Again, no Week 17 lines with too many intangibles potentially on the final Sunday of the season. Cleveland is off a trip to Kansas City. I think it's fair to expect the Steelers to be favored here if the game matters and everyone is healthy. Although Pittsburgh was stomped 31-10 in Week 6 at Cleveland last year. It was the Steelers' worst loss in the series since 1989. Roethlisberger suffered just his second loss in 20 games against Cleveland. Steelers win this one. Key trend: Steelers 4-4-2 ATS in past 10 as favorite at Cleveland.
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