Joe Starkey: Steelers’ schedule looking more difficult by the day

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The draft hasn’t happened yet. The Steelers are depending on a 38-year-old quarterback coming off major elbow surgery. The season is more than five months away, and we don’t even know if a season will happen. The last thing any rational person would do, given the circumstances, is analyze the schedule.

So let’s get to it.

We’ll look at offseason moves and rate the Steelers’ chance to win each game as “BETTER” or “WORSE” than it was a few months ago. We’ll assume a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. And of course we’ll christen each game with a nickname.

Off we go …


BALTIMORE RAVENS (home and away)

“The Chris Wormley Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: WORSE

The Ravens won’t go 14-2 again but might be a better team, if that makes sense. They aggressively addressed their defensive front, which was humiliated in the loss to Tennessee. Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers join Brandon Williams up front. That’s nearly a thousand pounds of beef. Marshall Yanda’s retirement hurt, but the Ravens have five picks in the first three rounds.

Steelers victory odds: Home (50%), road (45%).


CLEVELAND BROWNS (home and away)

“The Myles Garrett Bowl”

The Steelers celebrate after Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson dropped a pass on the Ravens’ last play of the game during the closing seconds Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, in Baltimore. The Steelers won 13-10.

Joshua Axelrod

You can watch two Steelers games during NBC Sports’ ‘Football Week in America’ series

Steelers’ chance to win: WORSE

The Browns brought in a tight end (Austin Hooper), a much-needed tackle (Jack Conklin, who likely will be book-ended with the 10th pick in the draft), three potential starters on defense to join Garrett and most importantly a new coach. Like you, I know almost nothing about Kevin Stefanski, but I know this: He’s not Freddie Kitchens. The Browns still need a safety (what a shock the whole Morgan Burnett thing didn’t work out), and they’re still the Browns, which means everything could blow up in Baker Mayfield’s face again.

Steelers victory odds: Home (55%), road (47%).


CINCINNATI BENGALS (home and away)

“The Joe Burrow Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: WORSE (but still really good)

What got into Bengals owner Mike “Bob Nutting” Brown?The Bengals have spent like drunken sailors. They tagged A.J. Green and threw $95 million at Trae Waynes and D.J. Reader. Last year’s first-round pick, tackle Jonah Williams, will make his debut. Now they await the Heisman Trophy winner. Interesting. Very interesting.

Steelers victory odds: Home (70%), road (60%).



“The Diontae Spencer Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: WORSE

Or is it the Nick Vannett Bowl? In any case, neither of those guys are what make the Broncos scary. These guys are: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb (back from knee injury) and newly acquired Jurrell Casey. Melvin Gordon joins a crowded backfield. Drew Lock remains the key.

Steelers victory odds: 52%



“The Jon Bostic Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: SAME

Or is it the Sean Davis Bowl? Either way, the Redskins stink. Haven’t won a playoff game since 2005, led by defense that included LaVar Arrington and Ryan Clark.

Steelers victory odds: 95%



“The Mike McCarthy Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: BETTER

How about them Cowboys? Kept their Big Three intact — Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper — but also lost cover corner Byron Jones (aren’t all corners cover corners?), their best pass rusher in Robert Quinn and center Travis Frederick.

Steelers victory odds: 49%



“The Tyler Matakevich Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: WORSE

Big news here is Stefon Diggs. Bills didn’t score enough in their biggest games. They needed a major weapon. They got one. The defense will be very good again. Josh Allen just needs to stop providing highlights for both teams.

Steelers victory odds: 47%



“The Josh Dobbs Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: BETTER.

The Jags have fallen apart. This shapes up as either a blowout win or the annual horrific Mike Tomlin road loss. Editor’s note: The Jags have just signed Tyler Eifert. Somebody tell Keith Butler.

Steelers victory odds: 85%



“The George Aston Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: SAME

Nothing the Giants have done this offseason raised eyebrows, but Daniel Jones, who had a surprisingly good rookie year, figures to improve. They have the fourth pick in the draft — and Saquon Barkley.

Steelers victory odds: 53%



“The Watt Family Reunion Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: BETTER

Bill O’Brien is a miracle worker: He somehow failed to net a first-round pick in trading Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins over the past two years. Houston still has Deshaun Watson but simply is a lesser team without Hopkins. And who knows, by the time this game arrives, the Steelers might have all three Watt brothers. Let’s see if O’Brien bites on a Duck Hodges-for-J.J. Watt deal.

Steelers victory odds: 60%



“The Javon Hargrave Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: WORSE

Still plenty of holes, but you can’t accuse the Eagles of standing pat. They were excessive, actually, in doling out third- and fifth-round picks, plus $30 million in guaranteed money to secure cornerback Darius Slay. They also dropped $39 million on Hargrave. Miles Sanders and Carson Wentz are a handful.

Steelers victory odds: 51%



“The Eric Ebron Bowl”

Steelers’ chance to win: WORSE

Two names: DeForest Buckner, Philip Rivers. If you believe Rivers has something left, then you believe this team is trouble. I do. Buckner, as Mike Tomlin might say, needs no endorsement from me. Adam Vinatieri kicked the Colts out of a playoff spot last year. He’s gone. The team that was built for Andrew Luck is now built for Rivers.

Steelers victory odds: 50%



“The Jim Haslett Bowl” Did you know Haslett coached the Titans’ inside linebackers? Me, neither.

Steelers’ chance to win: BETTER

Titans in Clowney Sweepstakes, but at the moment look diminished, having lost Jack Conklin and Jurrell Casey. Is anyone other than Ryan Tannehill excited about a $118 million contract for Ryan Tannehill? Still, there is the Derrick Henry monster to deal with.

Steelers victory odds: 49%

Add it up, I’ve got 9-5 with two toss-up games.

You’re welcome.


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