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Schedule has players ready for primetime
April 20, 2018 03:15 PM | Teresa Varley
Football players are just like the rest of us. When the NFL schedule came out, they too clicked the links to see what was on tap for 2018.

"You want to see when you are playing teams, what time the games are, what the travel schedule is going to be like," said Anthony Chickillo. "It's exciting. We are getting closer and closer to football. There is a process every year, getting ready for the season. Every Sunday in the NFL you are playing against great players. Any team can win any Sunday. It's all about who plays their best that day. It doesn't matter who we play, we just have to play our best game every week."

One of the first things players noticed when they looked at the schedule was five nationally televised primetime games for the second consecutive year.

"We're the Pittsburgh Steelers. We draw that type of crowd, we draw those types of games," said T.J. Watt. "What makes this whole thing so special is when those lights come on, we are ready to perform. Who doesn't like to perform when the lights are shining?"

This is a team that definitely rises to the occasion when it comes to primetime football, winning all five of their games last year. This year's slate includes Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Oakland on the road, and Baltimore and Carolina at home.

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"It's an awesome opportunity for us to show teams around the league how physical a team we are, and how we play Steelers football," said James Conner. "It's nice to be on primetime. For friends and family who can't see our games, it's great to be able to put on a show."

Fans around the country thrive on seeing the Steelers on primetime, games that are always at the top of the ratings. And while the players do love them, they also know they weigh the same as the other games on the schedule and have to treat each one equally.

"Everyone watches them so it means a little more for the fans to check them out," said Maurkice Pouncey. "They are fun, they are special, and everyone turns up for them a little more. But the schedule is what it is and you have to show up for every game."

The Carolina game, which is on Thursday Night Football, will be an opportunity for the Steelers to wear their Color Rush jerseys, according to team President Art Rooney II. It's a jersey that has played out well for the team the last two years, with a 2-0 record, and wearing it again is a highlight.

"I didn't think we were going to wear them," said Pouncey. "I saw a few reports saying that. I like them a lot. The fans are into them. It's a great look for the team. It's special for the guys. I know they enjoy it."

Since Coach Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007, the Steelers have finished the season 10 out of 11 years with an AFC North matchup. The same holds true this year, but instead of Cleveland, who they have faced in the finale seven out of the last eight years, this time it will be the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.

"I think they knew what they were doing with that one," said Conner. "They wanted to end it on a good note, a physical game."

* * *

When the schedule was released, fans immediately started to make plans for what games they would be attending. They weren't the only ones.

Watt's parents, Connie and John, did the same thing. They just have a little more planning to do so they can see their three sons, T.J., Derek Watt (Chargers) and J.J. Watt (Texans) play.

"My parents are staying with me for the weekend, so it's nice to see they are starting to schedule and figure out their flight arrangements for all three of us," said Watt. "It's definitely exciting to see where we will be, who we will play and when, but I think it's more the fans getting excited about what games they will be at. I will be at all of them so it doesn't matter to me."

One week in particular this year will be easy for Watt's parents to plan, when the Chargers come to Pittsburgh on December 2, and for the second straight year he gets to play against one of his brother's teams.

"That definitely makes it easier," said Watt. "Hopefully Derek will be able to stop out to the house and we can have a nice little family reunion."

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