The NFL won't release the actual schedule for the 2013 football season until sometime this summer, but due to the NFL's scheduling formula, we already know who the Steelers will play next season. With the Steelers loss to Cincinnati, they are now locked in to third place in the division. Here is a brief rundown on how the NFL's scheduling matrix works:
- Each team plays home and away against their three divisional opponents. (6 games total)
- Each team plays all four teams from one of the three divisions in their conference, with home and away rotating with each cycle, provided that a team from the east does not have to travel to the West Coast twice in a season. For example, if a team is slated to play both San Diego and Oakland on the road, one of those games will be switched to a home game to prevent the team from travelling to the West Coast twice. (4 games total)
- Each team plays against the teams that finished in the same position in the division as that team in the two other divisions in their conference. (2 games total)
- Each team plays all four teams from one of the four divisions in the other conference, with home and away rotating with each cycle. (4 games total)
In addition to the divisional opponents, the Steelers will face all four teams from the AFC East in 2013 as part of their conference opponent rotation after facing the AFC West in 2012 and the AFC South in 2011. The last time the Steelers faced the AFC East in the rotation was in 2010 when they played New England and New York at home and travelled to Buffalo and Miami. That means that we will see the Bills and Dolphins at Heinz Field next year and have to make trips to Foxboro and East Rutherford.
Since the Steelers are locked into third place in the division, we know they will play the third place teams from both the AFC South and AFC West. With third place already decided in both the AFC South and AFC West, the Steelers will play Tennessee and Oakland in 2013. In 2010 when the Steelers faced the AFC East, they played their AFC South opponent (Tennessee) on the road and their AFC West opponent (strangely enough, Oakland) at home. That means that the 2013 schedule will switch and the Steelers will play their AFC South opponent at home and AFC West opponent on the road. It is merely coincidence that the opponents (Tennessee and Oakland) are the same in 2013 as they were in 2010.
From the NFC, the Steelers will face off against the NFC North, who they have not played since 2009. In 2009, the Steelers faced the Brett Favre-led Vikings at home and won a wild shootout with the Packers at home. This means we will see Detroit and Chicago in town in 2013. The NFL has already announced that the Steelers and Vikings will be the featured game in London, England next season on September 29. The NFL has always awarded a bye week following the London game, so you can chalk up October 6 as the Steelers bye week for 2013. Personally, I had always been opposed to the Steelers playing in London or another overseas city if it meant giving up a home game, but since we were slated to play the Vikings on the road, the Steelers will not have to surrender a home game in order to appear in London.
All things told, the Steelers will face Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, and Tennessee at home. The 2013 road trips will be to Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New England, New York (Jets), Green Bay, Oakland, and London to play Minnesota. The NFL allows up to five primetime games per team and I would expect the Steelers to have primetime games at least against New England, Green Bay and Baltimore. With the expansion of Thursday Night Football, it is entirely possible the Steelers will appear in a Thursday night game as well, as they have done in each of the last seven seasons. The 2013 slate of opponents is not overly difficult with less than half of the games against playoff teams. Additionally, the Steelers only have to make two trips outside of the Eastern Time Zone, which has been their achilles heel during the Mike Tomlin era.