- The Steelers are expected to start backup Landry Jones. What’s ridiculous is that he wasn’t even good when he faced the Browns in Week 17 last year, yet his final stat line included completing 65% of his passes for 277 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. That included a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.
- Things have trended downward for DeShone Kizer the past couple of games. I’d argue that his anticipation has regressed a bit after showing the slightest trace of progress mid-way through the season. If Pittsburgh plays their backups on defense, Kizer will have an opportunity to take advantage of some running lanes when the defense gets undisciplined.
- Last year, the Steelers’ backups were really bad until DeAngelo Williams was inserted into the game for the second half to save the day. This year, it looks like Steven Ridley will get the start. Ridley was just signed; his first game was last week when he ran 9 times for 28 yards against the Texans (although he has a reputable history with the Patriots).
- Isaiah Crowell has barely been used in the second half of games the past two weeks, and this could be his final game in a Browns uniform. Duke Johnson could also clear another franchise record in receiving yards this week.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- It's been a nice rookie season for JuJu Smith-Schuster. He's up to 49 catches for 774 yards and 6 touchdowns and has stepped up in Antonio Brown's absence. Martavis Bryant has been good for about 40-60 yards each week. Eli Rogers and Darius Heyward-Bey could see some work with the backups this week.
- Tight end Jesse James burned the Browns for 2 touchdowns in Week 1. He’s had just 1 touchdown the rest of the season.
- Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon have not been able to make an impact the past two weeks, thanks to some terrible play at the quarterback spot. It’s unclear which defensive starters will suit up for Pittsburgh, but if Gordon gets to face some backups, you’d have to imagine that he’ll have some favorable opportunities downfield. I’m marking this position as even because of the group’s lack of success in general, though.
- If the Steelers follow the same formula as last year, they will play their starting offensive line but rest C Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey is listed as questionable with a hip injury too. Expect LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, RG David DeCastro, and RT Marcus Gilbert to start. B.J. Finney would then play at center.
- Even if Pouncey sits, the Steelers get the edge in this positional match-up. They protect well, and Cleveland’s offensive line has the vulnerability at left tackle along with some lingering communication issues as the season winds down to where pass rushers are getting free rushes.
- The Steelers run a 3-4 defense featuring DE Cameron Heyward, NT Javon Hargrave, and DE Stephon Tuitt. Heyward has 12 sacks on the year as the team’s best pass rusher. Pittsburgh is vulnerable against the run this year if teams stay committed to it.
- One of the match-ups we were so excited for in camp was DE Myles Garrett getting the chance to take down QB Ben Roethlisberger. Garrett is healthy this time, but we won’t have the chance to see him take the big man down. Nonetheless, Cleveland’s defensive line has a chance to shut down Pittsburgh’s running game to do their part in getting victory number one.
- The Steelers' starting linebackers are OLB Bud Dupree, ILB Sean Spence, ILB Vince Williams, and OLB T.J. Watt. The big loss for this group was the devastating injury that ILB Ryan Shazier suffered earlier this month. Shazier was having a career year, and no one can replace his production. Watt has had a nice rookie year, but his finest game was still in Week 1 against Cleveland when he had 2 sacks and an interception.
- James Harrison’s release this past week doesn’t matter for now. He barely played and only had three tackles on the season. It’ll help the locker room, but things could flare up in the postseason if the teams square off.
- Cleveland has not used the nickel very much the past two weeks, partially due to their opponents’ personnel usage and partially because of Briean Boddy-Calhoun being out. Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert are 6 and 7 tackles behind, respectively, the NFL lead in tackles this year.
- The Steelers’ cornerbacks include Joe Haden and Artie Burns, with Mike Hilton playing in the nickel. Hilton just had a three-sack game against the Texans, the first time that’s been done since 2005 by a defensive back. Expect him to bring pressure again to see if lightning can strike twice.
- Safeties Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell are the Steelers’ safeties. If Pittsburgh plays all of their starters in the secondary, at least to start the game, it’ll be tough for Cleveland to have success against that unit.
- The Browns should have Briean Boddy-Calhoun back for the finale. He had a forgetful moment last year, with a pick six that could’ve sealed it before fumbling into the end zone from the one yard line for a touchback. Can he avenge that mistake one year later?
- Chris Boswell is the Steelers' kicker. He's been fantastic this year, connecting on 35-of-38 field goals (92.1%), including 4 from beyond 50 yards. Zane Gonzalez has only made 14-of-19 field goals, which tells you just how few scoring opportunities Cleveland has had in comparison.
- Jordan Berry is the Steelers' punter. He averages 43.7 yards per punt and a 40.0 net average. Britton Colquitt's average remains good (48.1), and his net average is 40.7.
- The Steelers have rotated kickoff returners all year. WR Eli Rogers is their punt returner, and he's averaging 7.9 yards per return. S Jabrill Peppers has been the Browns' punt returner all year, but his longest return has gone for just 25 yards. Can he finally break a big one?
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I tried to get myself excited for this week’s game and that Cleveland could beat Pittsburgh’s backups to avoid 0-16. But the truth is that Pittsburgh is likely to play their starters on defense, and I don’t trust Kizer or Hue to capitalize. This Pittsburgh team destroyed the Texans 34-6 last week, and without Roethlisberger, they’ll just simply scheme to have Landry Jones throw short passes to attack all the soft spots in the Browns’ defense. Bring on the parade, I guess.” Steelers 17, Browns 13.
Matt Wood: “Browns get rolled. Duke Johnson's quote was interesting yesterday when he didn't back Hue. Hope this is the game that gets Hue fired.” Steelers 38, Browns 10.
Andrea Hangst: “The Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to sit both Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell and continue to weather losing defensive leader Ryan Shazier as well as the calf injury currently sidelining Antonio Brown. But the Steelers still have postseason home-field advantage to fight for, as well as the desire to stave off the ignominy of being the only team to fall to the Cleveland Browns this year. While the absence of key starters does give the Browns a leg up, that's the only thing going for the winless bunch in Week 17. Suddenly, Hue Jackson jumping in a cold lake does not seem punishment enough for an 0-16 year; I suppose that's why he assumes he will keep his job in 2018.” Steelers 17, Browns 7.
Ezweav: “I have no intellectual basis to pick Cleveland, and really no hope that things are going to improve, ever. That said, I just cannot accept 0-16 until I am absolutely forced to.” Browns 15, Steelers 14.
Robo Dawg: “The Browns are on a collision course with destiny as they face division champions Pittsburgh Steelers. For Pittsburgh, the only motivating factor that they have in this game is to humiliate the Cleveland Browns. For Cleveland, they are playing to avoid the stigma for achieving the numerologicaly significant 0-16 record. Moreover, if they lose the game the national punditry will discuss the following year the possibility of consecutive 0-16 seasons, especially as their QB will likely to be yet another untested rookie thrown into Hue Jackson’s crucible of whimsy.
The only motivating factor for either team this week is pride, and right now – it looks like Pittsburgh, even without starting their skill players, will still have gobs more to play for than the Browns.” Browns 24, Steelers 13.
Joshua Finney: “Almost had a perfect record this year. Damn browns couldn’t beat the Rodgerless Packers with a 2 score lead. Blug.” Steelers 21, Browns 13.
rufio: “Steelers are playing backups, Browns almost lose anyway. Kizer throws 2 INTs and 2 more that should be picked off, but outside of those 4 plays he does well. Gordon makes some plays and the players play hard to avoid the embarrassment of playing on one of the few 0-16 teams in history.” Browns 24, Steelers 20.
notthatnoise: “The Steelers backups look like crap, but the Browns struggle to take advantage. The game is largely a snooze-fest and turns on one or two weird plays, like a blocked punt safety or something.” Browns 11, Steelers 5.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.
Who do you think will win, Browns or Steelers?
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