Normally, when the NFL schedule is released, fans don't need to consider whether the games will actually take place. This is supposed to be the time when vacation days are blocked out across Steeler Nation.

Not in 2011.

Just a lock-out, no block out.

But, assuming the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers football season does include actual, you know, players and games, here are my initial thoughts on the slate which was released Tuesday night:

The first four weeks are no picnic. Three of the four are road games, and three of the four are against playoff teams from 2010 (ok, so Seattle barely qualifies). It'll be the first time the Black and Yellow start the campaign on the road since 2007 (and that was in Cleveland). In fact, seven of the past eight seasons began at Heinz Field for the Steelers.

Get the big-boy pads ready, Week 1 of 2011 begins at M&T Bank-on-Violence Stadium in Baltimore.

And with the Ravens last two defeats (one in December, one in January) coming at the hands of their rivals, you know Baltimore's entire training camp will be operated, assuming the NFL operates, with beating Pittsburgh in Week 1 in mind.

V Seattle, AT Indy on Sunday primetime, and AT Houston follow. In particular, that guarantees tests for the Steelers secondary with Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub. And they're certain to have the Green Bay Packers / New England Patriots blueprint in hand. If the Steelers are without Ike Taylor at corner, the early season is a concern.

Now, this year's first quarter can't be tougher than last year's plight missing the suspended #7 (assuming this offseason continues to proceed quietly off the field), but a 2-2 record after four games in 2011 wouldn't be unreasonable.

After that, things open up a bit. Based on 2010 teams' records, the Steelers schedule is only 27th toughest in the league of 32.

Tennessee and Jacksonville should be winning fodder at Heinz Field in Games 5 and 6 (the Titans are in rebuild mode, and both teams rely on a ground game Pittsburgh can handle). A road trip to Pittsburgh West (Arizona) in Game 7 presents challenges, but a likely horrible QB situation for the Cardinals (Blaine Gabbert? Ryan Mallett?). A 5-2 record can be had at this point.

New England and Baltimore await in Games 8 and 9 in primetime at Heinz, the true heart of the schedule, sandwiched around Halloween. A trip to the Queen City in Game 10 finishes up the pre-bye schedule (is Polamalu still alive by this point?). These three games will be pure entertainment, albeit tough contests.

Then comes another NBC night game, this one in Kansas City after the Bye Week, giving the Steelers two weeks to prepare for an improving Chiefs team. And all in all with three Sunday night games in the first 12 games, NBC is showing Pittsburgh plenty of respect (who cares about Monday night anymore?).

Finally, the grand finale of Cincy, Cleveland (Thursday), at San Fran (MNF), St Louis (Saturday), and at Cleveland round out the season (Can you say Jan 1, 2012, in Cleveland??!! The Winter Blah-sick). Sam Bradford will come to Heinz Field with the Steelers on a short week and coming back from the left coast, but it's not the end of the world.

All in all, a manageable slate for the defending runners-up. Let's just hope the league is up and running.

Posted in Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers

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