WILD CARD PREVIEW 6: CLEVELAND BROWNS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS

BY ADAM GREENE

We wrap up our Wild Card Weekend with a match up with the most hate and history behind it, but thanks to some positive COVID-19 tests it might not matter. The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers will face off for back-to-back weeks and this time it’s win or go home for both teams.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-6, O/U: 47)

Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Kickoff: Jan. 10, 8:15 p.m. EST

Broadcast: NBC

THE HISTORY

While these squads are in the AFC, they are both old NFL rivals going all the way back to 1950 when the Browns moved over from the old All American Football League. Since then, they’ve been matched up ever since this will be the 139th all time meeting between the two franchises with the Steelers holding a 77-60-1 advantage in the series.

It has not been competitive in the last two decades to say the least. Cleveland has won a total of eight games over Pittsburgh since they returned in 1999 and they tied once. The rest have all been Steelers victories and most haven’t been particularly close.

The Browns have done better of late, winning two of the last four, including their match up last week, 24-22, when the Steelers were resting starters. Mason Rudolph threw for 315 yards, two touchdowns and in interception in the loss. Chase Claypool caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. For the Browns, Baker Mayfield had 196 yards and a TD. Nick Chubb rushed for 108 yards and a score.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (11-5)

The Browns had to beat Pittsburgh last week to make the playoffs. Lucky for them, the Steelers had already punched their ticket, secured their seed and didn’t need to show up. Still, it was a game that was way too close for comfort for the Browns and that should be a real concern heading into Sunday night.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (12-4)

Pittsburgh was smart to sit Ben Roethlisberger last week as all he could have done is put up some worthless stats. They were going to play either the Browns, Dolphins or Colts and rightly didn’t care which team it would be. Still, there are concerns for the Steelers. Before they knocked off the Colts 28-24 in Week 16, they suffered a three game losing streak and one of those losses was to the Ryan Finley-led Cincinnati Bengals.

THE PICK

There’s no way Cleveland and its fanbase aren’t devastated that Kevin Stefanski and a host of their coaches will be absent Sunday thanks to COVID-19 diagnoses. But what are you going to do? The Browns had too much of a “happy to be here” energy coming into this one anyway and they should be happy to be there. They earned it and the moribund franchise should celebrate a return to relevance. But a two-point win over a team starting its back up bodes ill for Sunday’s game that everyone is playing for keeps. Steelers 26, Browns 16

LAST WEEK

Straight up: 13-3

Against the spread: 11-5

SEASON

Straight up: 170-85-1

Against the spread: 131-125

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