Despite the struggles of the Cleveland Browns since their return, the rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers has remained. While the Steelers have had far more competition from the other two AFC North teams, the Browns have a unique place as their most important rival.
Two years ago, Cleveland clinched their playoff spot with a victory over Pittsburgh in the final week of the season before going on to knock off their rival in the first round of the playoffs. This year, the Steelers will need a victory over the Browns in Week 18 to give themselves playoff hopes.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, they don’t control their own destiny. Not only would they have to defeat Cleveland in Week 18 but they also need the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins to lose their games. New England travels to Buffalo while Miami hosts the New York Jets next week.
Also on the line for the Steelers is head coach Mike Tomlin’s winning-season streak.
Tomlin has not had a losing season since taking over the job in 2007. His 15 straight “non-losing” seasons are an NFL record. The Browns have a chance to end that streak. For all the years that a season-ending loss to Pittsburgh led to a coaching change in Cleveland, this would be a small but juicy reward for the Browns.
The winner of the Week 18 matchup will also claim third place in the AFC North while the loser will dwell in the cellar.
While Cleveland’s season has been a failure, overall, closing out the season with two straight wins against teams in the playoff hunt, knocking their biggest rival out of the playoffs and ending Tomlin’s streak would send the season out on a high note.