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Steelers schedule, 2021 NFL odds: Pittsburgh, with Ben Roethlisberger back, opens Week 1 at Bills as part of league's toughest slate

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the toughest overall strength of schedule for 2021, which is likely to be Ben Roethlisberger's final season.
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The NFL schedule-makers again were unkind to the Pittsburgh Steelers in terms of their 2021 regular-season opener as the Steelers will visit a terrific Buffalo team as it marks the seventh straight year the Steelers will open the season on the road, and they have 3-2-1 record in the past six. The Bills opened as 6-point favorites on the NFL odds. Pittsburgh does play four of its first six at Heinz Field overall, but the team's final four games of the season (two home, two road) are all against 2020 AFC playoff teams. 

Five years after he retires, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it's likely that the 2021 season is the last in the NFL for the two-time Super Bowl winner. The way Pittsburgh's 2020 season ended, Big Ben coming back was far from a sure thing, but he and the team were able to agree on a new contract to lower his massive cap number. It could be tough to return to the playoffs this year as Pittsburgh has the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL.

Roethlisberger holds nearly every Steelers passing record and has played in a team-record 233 games and started a record 231. He and the team started last season very strong at 11-0, the last unbeaten team in the NFL, but then the wheels fell off for both as Pittsburgh finished 12-4 and was stunned at home by Cleveland in the wild-card round.

While Roethlisberger's long-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey retired, the team surprisingly was able to bring back receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a one-year contract. He was expected to a get a much richer long-term deal on the free-agent market. JuJu caught 97 passes for 831 yards and nine scores in 2020. Leading rusher James Conner was not re-signed.

Pittsburgh rushed for the fewest yards (1,351) and yards per rush (3.6) in the NFL last season. However, the team selected Alabama running back Najee Harris with the No. 24 overall pick in the draft. It was the first time since 2008 that Pittsburgh used a first-round pick on a running back, and Harris is among the early NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favorites. 

Defensively, the big loss was pass-rusher Bud Dupree, who signed with Tennessee. He had a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2019 and had eight sacks in 11 games last year before a season-ending injury.

Coach Mike Tomlin has had 14 straight non-losing seasons with the Steelers, tied with the late Marty Schottenheimer for the longest by a head coach to start his career in NFL history.

No team's 2021 regular-season schedule is ranked tougher than Pittsburgh's as its opponents combined for a 155-115-2 record in 2020 (.574 winning percentage). The team has a first-place schedule and added reigning NFC West champion Seattle as the 17th game. 

Pittsburgh Steelers trends/William Hill Sportsbook odds

  • 2020 record: 12-4 (10-6 against the spread, 8-7-1 Over/Under)
  • 2021 strength of schedule rank: 1st (combined opponents' winning percentage of .574)
  • 2021 Over/Under win total: 9.0
  • SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 9.0
  • Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +4000
  • To win AFC: +2000
  • To win AFC North: +400
  • To make playoffs: No -180, yes +150
  • NFL MVP odds: TJ Watt +8000, Ben Roethlisberger +8000

Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule

Week 1 at Buffalo Bills: Buffalo beat the visiting Steelers 26-15 in Week 14 last year

Week 2 vs. Las Vegas Raiders: Silver & Black have won four of past five in Pittsburgh (last visit in 2015)

Week 3 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Pittsburgh has won five straight at home in series (4-1 ATS)

Week 4 at Green Bay Packers: Green Bay has lost five of the past six in the series but won the one that mattered: SB XLV

Week 5 vs. Denver Broncos: Denver was a 26-21 Heinz Field loser in Week 2 last season

Week 6 vs. Seattle Seahawks (SNF): 17th added game; Seattle won in Pittsburgh 28-26 in 2019

Week 7 BYE

Week 8 at Cleveland Browns: Pittsburgh is winless in past three trips with one tie (1-2 ATS)

Week 9 vs. Chicago Bears (MNF): Chicago's first visit since 2013 when it won 40-23

Week 10 vs. Detroit Lions: Steelers have won past six home meetings dating to 1986

Week 11 at Los Angeles Chargers (SNF): Bolts are 2-0 SU & ATS in their past two visits (last in 2019)

Week 12 at Cincinnati Bengals: Steelers' six-game win streak at Cincinnati ended last year (27-17)

Week 13 vs. Baltimore Ravens: Teams have split the past 10 at Heinz Field (Steelers have covered only 2)

Week 14 at Minnesota Vikings (TNF): Minnesota last played in Pittsburgh in 2005, an 18-3 loss

Week 15 vs. Tennessee Titans: Bud Dupree returns and the Titans have won four of their past five at Steelers

Week 16 at Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes' first regular-season trip to Pittsburgh

Week 17 vs. Cleveland Browns (MNF): Browns ended a 17-game losing streak in Pittsburgh with that playoff upset

Week 18 vs. Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore has won and covered three of past four as home team in series

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