In 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers navigated through the NFL's toughest schedule to win the franchise's sixth and most recent Super Bowl. If Pittsburgh is going to win its seventh Super Bowl this year, it'll once again have to overcome what may be the league's hardest slate. 

On paper, the Steelers have a team that is capable of making the playoffs and making noise once they get there. I have them going 10-7 for a second straight year, but I admit that that projection is a pretty optimistic one. A 10-win regular season would be a pretty significant accomplishment for the Steelers, based on their schedule. 

Below is my ranking of the five reasons why Mike Tomlin's team may have the NFL's toughest regular season schedule. Before diving into those, we should quickly mention a few positives to Pittsburgh's schedule: a Week 9 bye and the fact that the Steelers host three primetime games (the Cowboys in Week 5, the Jets in Week 7 and the Giants in Week 8). Pittsburgh also gets to host the Chiefs on Christmas instead of having to travel to Kansas City. 

5. 10 games against teams with winning records 

Admittedly, only two of Pittsburgh's first eight games are against teams that had winning records in 2023 (at Colts in Week 5, at home against the Cowboys in Week 5). But that doesn't include a season-opener against a Falcons team that, on paper, should be a much improved squad than the one that compiled three 7-10 records each of the last three years. 

Pittsburgh's first eight games also include home games against two of the NFL's best quarterbacks in the Chargers' Justin Herbert and the Jets' Aaron Rodgers. The Jets are expected to be a major player in the AFC this year with the return of Rodgers, a four-time league MVP who missed most of the 2023 season with an Achilles injury. 

4. Slew of early road games 

Four of Pittsburgh's first six games are on the road, which obviously isn't ideal. A positive here is that three of the Steelers' five games will be played at Acrisure Stadium. 

As alluded to above, the Steelers open with a road game against Atlanta, who will be led this year by four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Steelers will then try to snap their four-game losing streak in Denver the next week in Russell Wilson's first game against his old team. 

Pittsburgh's early road schedule also includes games in always hostile Indianapolis and Las Vegas. The Steelers won in Sin City last year but got blown out in Indianapolis in Week 15. 

3. NFL's third-hardest SOS 

Based on last year's results, the Steelers have the third-hardest schedule in the NFL, behind only the Browns and the Ravens. Pittsburgh's opponents won a combined 53.3 percent of their games in 2023. That's daunting enough, but the Steelers' schedule is even tougher when you actually look at the games that are expected to be the easier ones. 

We already talked about the Jets and Falcons, who should be significantly better than they were in 2023 because of Cousins and Rodgers. Another team that should give the Steelers fits that is largely being overlooked is the Commanders, who have made sweeping changes this offseason that includes the hiring of defensive guru Dan Quinn, the selection of quarterback of Jayden Daniels with the No. 2 overall pick and the free agent acquisitions of versatile running back Austin Ekeler, former Chiefs offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and six-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner

A positive for the Steelers is that they will face the Commanders in Week 10, which comes just after their Week 9 bye. 

2. Two short weeks 

The 2020 Steelers started 11-0 before stumbling to a 1-5 finish. A big reason for Pittsburgh's late-season collapse was season-ending injuries to starting linebackers Devin Bush and Bud Dupree. Playing three games in 12 days, which was the byproduct of the COVID-19 outbreak, also played a major role in Pittsburgh's collapse. 

Like they did then, the Steelers will again face a condensed schedule after their Week 9 bye. After facing the Commanders in Week 10, the Steelers will face two AFC North division rivals over a five-day span. Pittsburgh will host the Ravens in Week 11 before traveling to Cleveland to face the Browns on Thursday night. Making this stretch even harder is the fact that the Ravens and Browns won a combined 24 regular season games in 2023. 

That's not even the most condensed portion of Pittsburgh's schedule, though. Starting in Week 15, the Steelers will play three games in an 11-day span: at the Eagles on Dec. 15, at Baltimore on Dec. 21 and at home against the defending two-time champion Chiefs on Christmas Day. Those three teams won a combined 35 games in 2023. 

1. Final eight games are against teams that had winning records in 2023 

The Commanders are the final team the Steelers will face this year that did not post a winning record last year. Of Pittsburgh's final eight games, Cincinnati (who went 9-8 in 2023) is the only team that didn't make the playoffs last year. The Bengals are expected to be even better this year with quarterback Joe Burrow back after missing the back half of the 2023 season with a wrist injury. 

Each of the Steelers' six divisional games will also take place during this stretch, starting with a home game against Baltimore in Week 11. Pittsburgh will play four consecutive games against division opponents before hosting the Bengals in Week 18.