This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will the Browns deliver the final blow to the playoff hopes of their rivals? Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
The last time Jason Campbell faced the Steelers, he tried to be a game manager, completing 63% of his passes before leaving with a concussion. He's been so off and on, though, that I'm just turned off to the thought of him even competing for a starting role in 2014. The Steelers have the clear advantage with Ben Roethlisberger, who is having perhaps his best season, yet was not named as a Pro Bowler.
Compared to our other running backs, the stats for Edwin Baker, 25 carries for 102 yards (4.1 YPC) and 2 touchdowns, seem pretty darn good. Baker was the starting running back last week, and I'd expect that against the Steelers as well. If Cleveland pulls off an upset, it'll be because Baker makes a name for himself. The Steelers have been riding Le'Veon Bell a bit longer, though, and it's paying off. Last week, he had a career high 26 carries for 124 yards and 1 touchdown.
The Browns might get a big boost in their receiving game if Jordan Cameron can play. He was cleared to practice on Friday, and with his position, he really doesn't need to know a whole lot in practice about a team he just faced a month ago. Josh Gordon tore up Ike Taylor for over 200 yards the last time these two teams met, but the Steelers counter him with Antonio Brown. Brown got the better of cornerback Joe Haden in their last matchup, and Haden might not play this time around.
The Browns have some question marks at the guard position this week. Jason Pinkston is out with a concussion, but John Greco is set to return just in time to reclaim the spot at starting left guard. Shawn Lauvao is questionable after coming down with an injury late in the week, so there's a chance Garrett Gilkey might get the start. With two Pro Bowl players (Joe Thomas, Alex Mack) and this possibly being Mack's last game, though, I at least need to give Cleveland one advantage this week.
Cameron Heyward continues to excel at defensive end in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, and while their defensive line in general isn't all that impressive, I am giving them the advantage this time around because Cleveland's depth is taking a significant hit with Phil Taylor and John Hughes out. Brian Sanford was signed during the week, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him eat up a lot of playing time.
The Browns couldn't sack Ben Roethlisberger the last time these two teams met -- is it too much to ask for Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, or Jabaal Sheard to bring the big man down once? You also have to wonder if we may be seeing the final game for D'Qwell Jackson in a Browns uniform. I gave Cleveland the advantage at this position the last time around, but the linebackers have simply been too much of a disappointment down the stretch.
This ranking is under the assumption that Joe Haden will not play, otherwise, I would give the advantage to Cleveland. William Gay and Troy Polamalu made too many big plays for the Steelers' secondary back in Week 12, but Ike Taylor showed his age as Josh Gordon dominated him throughout the game. If Haden can't play, not only would Leon McFadden likely make his first start, but Julian Posey would probably be sprung into his first significant action of the season.
Antonio Brown has been electric on punt returns as of late, and Shaun Suisham has been one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL. Heinz Field is one of the tougher places to kick, so I wouldn't hold my breath for Billy Cundiff attempting any deep kicks or even getting his usual touchbacks. Jordan Poyer and Fozzy Whittaker each had a good return last week, so could we see more of the same this week?
I think the Cleveland Browns are too drained after losing as many games in a row as they have, and with how poor their quarterback situation has been. Injuries have started to pile up on this team too, while the Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty to play for.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Cleveland Browns 13
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