The Browns may be banged up, but they are still at full strength in the trenches. - David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
- Your head coach and GM are probably going to be fired Monday
- You're down to your third-string quarterback making his first career start
- You're facing a defense that still ranks statistically as the best in football
That doesn't sound too good. Is there more than what meets the eye, though?
There's no secret about what Ben Roethlisberger does -- he likes to extend plays outside of the pocket. The issue is that he has flat out choked since returning from injury, including a game-costing interception against the Bengals last week that eliminated them from the playoffs.
The Browns will see Thaddeus Lewis make his first career start. Lewis isn't afraid to take shots down the field and has a strong arm, but I don't think he has the quickest release and might be prone to telegraphing a few things against a defense like Pittsburgh.
Montario Hardesty will make his first start of the season. He will definitely be motivated for this opportunity to prove that he can be a solid contributor after the injuries he's suffered in the past. Brandon Jackson will finally be worked into the mix as the backup running back this week, which should be good for protection purposes.
The Steelers still aren't any closer to knowing who their next long-term running back is going to be, so both teams are on an even playing field here.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace will miss his first career game, and tight end Heath Miller is out with a torn ACL. Antonio Brown will play, but has made a ton of costly mistakes this year. Emmanuel Sanders will probably start this week, but really, Pittsburgh's receivers this week aren't very finesse; our thin secondary actually has a shot against them.
Pass protection will be key in making sure Lewis' first start under center is a memorable one (in a good way). While the run blocking is difficult against the Steelers' defense, they still have to try their tails off.
This week, the Browns' defensive line is going to show why Maurkice Pouncey is the most overrated center in the league. Pittsburgh also remains without offensive tackle Mike Adams.
In their different schemes, the Browns and the Steelers have performed well on the defensive line. Pittsburgh obviously has the edge when it comes to stopping the run, but I don't think that should give them a clear advantage over a deep (and generally, more youthful) defensive front.
Cleveland's defensive ends have an opportunity to create havoc this week with tight end Heath Miller out.
The last time these two teams met, the Browns operated from their 4-3 defense for half the game, and went with nickel or dime the rest of the game.
I'm expecting the Browns to use Craig Robertson for about 40 percent of the snaps, which means that Tank Carder could see a massive leap in playing time this week. The Steelers have the unquestionable advantage here with their talent at linebacker.
The Browns have Joe Haden, but the Steelers have both of their starting safeties healthy. When it comes down to it, those are pretty much the only proven starters in both lineups combined in the secondary.
Pittsburgh gets the edge because their reserve corners have held their own in the absence of Ike Taylor. The same can't be said for someone like Buster Skrine. I'd love to see the Browns keep Skrine in the nickel and shift Wade or even Johnson Bademosi to the outside as a starter.
If Cleveland is able to keep this a game despite the circumstances, it could very well come down to those two guys.
I could really see this game going either way.
On one hand, we've seen Browns teams give up before and fall completely flat against Pittsburgh late in the year -- like, 31-0 flat.
On the other hand, this team is stockpiled with young talent who are hungry to win. They tasted what it meant to the fans to beat Pittsburgh once already. Don't overlook Pittsburgh's injuries; they may not be starting Charlie Batch this time around, but Roethlisberger doesn't have his usual weapons and is probably at a new low in his career. It'll get even lower when this game is all said and done. Let's finish this season with Pittsburgh fans bitching about their head coaching situation (believe me, I've seen it already).
FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 20, Pittsburgh Steelers 16