The Browns play their final game of the year on Sunday. It will be a home matchup against their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game means everything to the Steelers, who are fighting to win the division and get a first-round bye. For the Browns, the game is all about pride and rivalry, as the Browns have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks.
This game should be a mismatch. The Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL. Their defense is terrific — the best in the NFL against the run — and their offense is balanced and productive. They are a seasoned team that routinely makes the playoffs, and this game is important to their Super Bowl prospects. The Browns, on the other hand, seem to have hit the wall both offensively and defensively. Offensively, the Browns struggle to score points; they have not reached 20 points in the last four games. Last week, the Ravens shut down Peyton Hillis and the Browns’ running game and picked off rookie quarterback Colt McCoy three times. The Steelers can also be expected to focus on stuffing the run and harassing McCoy. Defensively, the Browns seem to be getting worn down. The Ravens and the Bengals both moved the ball on the ground against the Browns, and the Steelers will try to do the same with Rashard Mendenhall, one of the best backs in the league. The Steelers, moreover, will bring Ben Roethlisberger and a better passing game, too.
It is disheartening for Browns fans to see another season grind to a close without a playoff berth, but the players and, in particular, head coach Eric Mangini and his staff cannot afford to be disheartened. They are fighting for their jobs and coming to an end of a season that has seen some progress. It would be nice to see the Browns’ final record come in at 6-10, rather than duplicating last year’s 5-11 mark. And, of course, it would be sweet to see the Browns beat the Steelers and throw a wrench into their playoff plans. Rivalries aren’t really rivalries if the underdog doesn’t rise up and win once in a while. Now would be a good time for the Browns to do so.