The Pittsburgh Steelers were favored at every position when these two teams met several weeks ago, but the end of the final whistle, it seemed like the Cleveland Browns were a lot more evenly matched than I originally thought. Is it fair to cherry pick one game though, or how the units have done on a season as a whole? The positional breakdown for the Browns' final game of the season is after the jump...
Ben Roethlisberger is expected to start for the Steelers after missing last week's game with the ankle injury he suffered against the Browns a few weeks earlier. He still is not fully recovered from that injury, but it is expected that his mobility will be much improved. Even with a limp, Roethlisberger has the strength to keep plays alive and allow his fast receivers to get open. Seneca Wallace loves to roll out to the right, but that might not be the wise thing to do this week with Tony Pashos out.
Peyton Hillis is fresh and running very strong. He hasn't had a "big" game against Pittsburgh like he's now had twice against Baltimore, but if someone is going to lower the boom on James Harrison during the whistle, it's going to be him. Rashard Mendenhall is efficient, but I'm kind of in awe of what their newly-promoted backup, John Clay, can do. The guy just looks massive, almost Bus-like.
|WR||Forget James Harrison. The guy who irritated me the last time these two teams met was wide receiver Antonio Brown. It didn't take very long for Brown to pick up that smug Steeler attitude that makes you cringe, and to top it off, he had a long catch-and-run touchdown reception to seal the game. The Browns will need a better effort from Greg Little this time around against Pittsburgh, and we should see just as much, if not more, of tight end Evan Moore.
|OL||I was dead-set on making these category "even" until I found out that Tony Pashos would be out with an injury. I really think the absence of Pashos will collapse the right side of the offensive line to the point where Cleveland's run game and pass game will suffer significantly. How much worse could it get, though; the Browns could only manage three points the last time they faced Pittsburgh.
|DL||Two backups, Brian Schaefering and Scott Paxson, were the tandem to bring down Roethlisberger the last time. If the Browns want to make the veteran quarterback feel the pain again, they'll need to do it with full-blown effort throughout the entire game. When the Steelers' offensive line needed to protect Big Ben in the second half the last time these teams met, they got the job done.
|LB||James Harrison. He has taken out Mohamed Massaquoi, Joshua Cribbs, and Colt McCoy with cheap shots over the past two seasons. It's too bad tight end Alex Smith isn't active, because he's the type of guy who wouldn't have minded getting a little chippy within the rules (see what he did to Seattle's Red Bryant). The Browns could use another monster game from Chris Gocong; the last time, he helped stop Mendenhall on the goal line for four consecutive plays.
Sheldon Brown did not have the best game the last time these two teams met, and Joe Haden had a slip-up at the end to put the game away. The safety play hasn't been bad for Cleveland, surprisingly. After a couple of strong weeks for Haden and company, can they create a few key turnovers early on in the game?
|ST||Joshua Cribbs may not be back to elite status just yet, but his punt return for a touchdown last week was encouraging; maybe it'll get him over the hump when it comes to being tentative. There might be a rain/snow mix in the forecast for Sunday's finale, so the kicking and punting game could play a major role for both sides.
I picked the Browns in an upset last week, and while they tempted with a surprising comeback, they obviously came up just a bit short. I think the right tackle situation hurts the Browns early in the game, and once you're down by a couple of possessions to the Steelers, it's not so easy to battle back.
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: 156-82
CHRIS' RECORD AT PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 10-5