Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Ranking five must-see Steelers games on 2022 schedule: Tom Brady, prime-time games vs. Browns, Bengals await

“It’s a five-star matchup, because we’re in it.” 

The above quote, declared by Mike Tomlin in 2008, was fully embraced by his ’08 team, who took on all comers on the way to winning the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy. Tomlin’s teams have continued to embrace that mindset and will do so again in 2022. The Steelers‘ upcoming schedule includes several marquee games that will certainly generate national interest. 

Owners of the NFL‘s toughest strength of schedule in 2021, Pittsburgh overcame a 1-3 start to make the playoffs for the 10th time under Tomlin, who in the process became the NFL’s first head coach to begin his career with 15 consecutive non-losing seasons. Pittsburgh’s schedule is less daunting this season, as it is tied for the 12th toughest among NFL teams. That being said, the Steelers’ schedule is certainly not easy, especially the season’s first eight games. Pittsburgh’s 2022 slate includes games against seven teams that made the playoffs last season and 10 games against teams that finished last year with a winning record. 

For a fourth straight year, the Steelers will face the Bills, the AFC East’s top team each of the past two years. New England, a longtime thorn Pittsburgh’s side, will come to town in Week 2. The Steelers will look to post their first win in Philadelphia since Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency in Week 8. Pittsburgh’s upcoming schedule also includes a prime-time showdown in Indianapolis and a late-season showdown against the Ravens that will likely have major playoff implications. 

As compelling as those matchups are, none of them managed to crack our list of the top five must-see games on the Steelers’ 2022 schedule. Here’s a look at those games, starting with a prime-time showdown in South Beach. 

5. Week 7 at Dolphins 

  • Oct. 23, 8:20 p.m. (NBC) 

A rare prime-time game in the Sunshine State for the Steelers. Pittsburgh hasn’t faced Miami in prime-time since 1996, when Mike Tomczak threw a game-winning touchdown pass against Dan Marino’s Dolphins in front of a “Monday Night Football” audience. This year’s game promises to be as exciting as the ’96 showdown, as Pittsburgh will face quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the first time. 

A big narrative for this game will be Brian Flores’ return to Miami. The Dolphins’ head coach from 2019-21, Flores was fired in January despite being the first Miami coach in nearly 20 years to post consecutive winning seasons. Flores resurfaced in Pittsburgh as the team’s senior assistant and linebackers coach. On the field, this promises to be a competitive showdown between the Steelers’ young receiving corps and Miami’s talented secondary, led by cornerback Xavien Howard

4. Week 6 vs. Buccaneers 

  • Oct. 16, 1 p.m. ET (CBS) 

Pittsburgh’s longtime nemesis returns to Heinz Field. While Tom Brady has tormented many teams over his 20-plus year career, not many teams have suffered more gut-wrenching losses to him than the Steelers. Brady’s track record against Pittsburgh includes wins in the 2001, 2004 and 2016 AFC Championship games. Brady also put a nail in the 2017 Steelers’ coffin when he directed New England to a last-minute win over Pittsburgh in Week 15. 

The Steelers did defeat Brady the last time he came to Pittsburgh. In 2018, the Steelers put enough pressure on Brady to come away with a 17-10 win. T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick and the rest of the Steelers’ defense will have to be on their “A” games in this matchup in order to have similar success against Brady, who at age 44 — he’ll be 45 in August — is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. The onus will also be on the Steelers’ offense to play ball control while limiting Brady’s time on the field. 

3. Week 3 at Browns 

  • Sept. 22, 8:15 p.m. ET (Amazon) 

This is the first prime-time game in Cleveland between these teams since Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph’s infamous brawl. Both players have since made up, but the teams continue to be bitter rivals. The Browns ended the 2020 Steelers’ season in the wild card round; Pittsburgh got payback by sweeping Cleveland last season. Najee Harris played a key role in both 2021 wins, rushing for a combined 279 yards. Watt was unstoppable in Pittsburgh’s second win over Cleveland, recording four sacks of then-Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield

Speaking of Mayfield, he has been replaced in Cleveland by Deshaun Watson, who is hoping to avoid a suspension by the NFL after the Texans sat him for the entire 2021 season. The Steelers have recent experience against Watson; they sacked him five times while holding him to 5 rushing yards in a 2020 Week 3 win over the Texans at Heinz Field. 

2. Week 11 vs. Bengals 

  • Nov. 20, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) 

Really, both matchups against the Bengals could be considered must-see showdowns. For the first time, Pittsburgh will open a season against Cincinnati, who is looking for a successful defense of its AFC title. The teams will then face off at Heinz Field in Week 11 in what will be Joe Burrow’s second game in Pittsburgh and first since his rookie season. 

Burrow took his lumps against Pittsburgh in that game, but he and his teammates turned the tables in a big way last season. The Bengals won both games against the Steelers last season, and by a combined score of 65-20. The second game, in Week 12 in Cincinnati, was a laugher; the Bengals rolled out to a 41-3 before hitting the cruise control with nearly an entire quarter remaining. The Bengals’ pass rush was the story in the first matchup, while Burrow and running back Joe Mixon chewed up Pittsburgh’s defense in a 41-10 win. 

The Bengals’ offense should be better in 2022 with the free agency signings of linemen Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins. But Pittsburgh’s defense should be more capable of slowing Cincinnati’s offense down this season with the free agent additions of cornerback Levi Wallace, linebacker Myles Jack and the return of Tyson Alualu, who missed both matchups last season with an injury. The Steelers are also keeping the door open for Stephon Tuitt’s return after the veteran defensive end missed the entire 2021 season. 

Pittsburgh’s offense should also be more capable this season against Cincinnati’s defense. Like the Bengals, the Steelers used free agency to beef up their offensive line, signing veterans James Daniels and Mason Cole to help solidify the interior of the line. They also drafted receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in an effort to rival the Bengals’ formidable receiving corps, led by Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd

1. Week 16 vs. Raiders 

  • Dec. 24, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 

This game has everything. A matchup between former bitter rivals. A late-season game between two teams that should be in the thick of division and playoff races. Throw in the fact that it is a prime-time Christmas Eve game, nearly 50 years to the day after Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” dramatically ended the Raiders’ season and thus beginning the Steelers’ dynasty, and this one has all the trimmings of a classic. 

The Steelers plan to bring in a host of players from that fabled ’72 team that won the franchise’s first-ever playoff game. With so many legends in attendance, the current Steelers team will look to get another win over a Raiders team that would love nothing better than to spoil Pittsburgh’s holiday with a win at Heinz Field. 

Pittsburgh has extended experience against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who last season handed the Steelers their first loss in leading Las Vegas to a 26-17 win in Pittsburgh in Week 2. Carr, who is 2-1 against Pittsburgh in his career, threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns in that game, while the Raiders’ defense stymied Harris and the Steelers’ rushing attack. Pittsburgh is certainly hoping to have more success on both sides of the ball against Las Vegas this season.

In order to have a desirable outcome this time around, Pittsburgh will also have to contain Davante Adams, the former Packers All-Pro receiver was was acquired by the Raiders this offseason. Adams, used primarily as a decoy in Green Bay’s early-season matchup against Pittsburgh last season, caught 6 of 11 targets for 64 yards in helping the Packers post a 27-17 win. He caught five passes for 82 yards a score at Heinz Field in 2017 despite Aaron Rodgers being sidelined with an injury. 

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