Friday, December 28, 2012

Better Than Buccos: Browns at Steelers Preview

Here we are.  The Steelers have been eliminated from playoff consideration and the best that they can hope for is to finish at .500.  If they manage to accomplish that objective, they will have had a better season than the Pirates, though it's fair to argue which team had the more epic collapse in 2012.  It's been a long, frustrating season from start to finish, but there have been plenty of highs to go along with the lows.

I think the Browns are improving and I think that they have a bright future now that Mike Holmgren isn't in charge of personnel decisions and Pat Schurmur will most likely not be in charge of anything in the very near future (like Monday).

I think Brandon Weeden is going to be a good quarterback well into his mid-30s, which means that they'll have a solid five years of good quarterback play in Cleveland.  Trent Richardson is the second coming of Jamaal Lewis and I'm not looking forward to that guy running roughshod over Steeler defenders for the next decade or so.

Joe Hayden leads a talented, ball-hawking secondary and the front seven has shown improvement over the course of the season, though that's definitely the team's weakness.  Well, that and the offensive line.  And they're pretty thin at receiver and tight end. 

OK, they have some work to do, but I think the Browns and Bengals are trending up and the Steelers and hated Ravens are trending down.  Cincinnati took a huge step forward in Week 16 and, according to my Pick Em picks, I think they'll take another big step forward by beating Baltimore this week.

My point is not that the Browns are awesome and that the Steelers suck.  My point is that these are two teams headed in different directions that happen to both be eliminated from post season contention.

But, at least as far as Sunday is concerned, the Browns are still the Browns and the Steelers are still the Steelers.  Mike Wallace and Heath Miller won't be available, but I don't think that will make a huge difference.  The Steelers are going to do what they do on offense and Cleveland will try to stop them.  Given that I don't think the Browns are going to force eight turnovers on Sunday, I don't think they'll be able to make enough stops to win this game.  Weeden and Richardson have both been declared out and so has Colt McCoy.  That means that something called a Thad Lewis is starting at quarterback and a Montario Hardesty (charter member of the Wasted Fantasy Football Pick-up Hall of Fame) will be starting at tailback.

At some point, probably after their fifth consecutive three-and-out, the Browns will realize that there's not that much difference between 5-11 and 6-10 and just lay down.  They've done that the past few times they've played the Steelers in the last game of the season and they'll do it again.  Because the Browns are still the Browns and the Steelers are still the Steelers.

Next season, who knows?  Cleveland could be fighting for a playoff spot and the Steelers could be 5-10.

This season, the Brownies have Thad Lewis, a lame duck head coach, and some dude named Montario starting at running back.  The Steelers still have a core group of guys -- the old guard of Keisel, Ryan Clark, Max Starks, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, Ben Roethlisberger, and even guys on IR like Ike Taylor and Heath -- that will want to finish the season strong and will do whatever it takes to make sure Week 17 isn't yet another losing effort.

Sure, the Steelers went on the road earlier this season and won a game against a division rival with their third string quarterback and a back-up starting at running back.  But, they also still had something to play for and those guys were Charlie Batch and Jonathan Dwyer, not Thad Lewis and Montario Hardesty.  Not that I think Batch and Dwyer are all-stars, but they've certainly shown enough throughout the season to suggest they're better than Lewis and Hardesty.

Then there's the fact that a big win on Sunday can fool us into believing the Steelers will come back strong next season, carrying momentum through offseason activities and training camp.  And the fact that a dismantling of the Browns would show, in some small way, that this team had real potential to be a dominant squad, they just frittered that potential away through injuries and inconsistent play.

I'm not looking at match-ups as much as I'm looking at history, emotion, and mental fortitude.  For those reasons, I think the Steelers will roll (which means that the Browns will win).

Steelers 27, Browns 6

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