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Steelers vs. Browns, Week 8: Setting the stage, and picking the winner of this AFC North matchup

In this series, we break down the Steelers’ upcoming opponent.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think of myself as being a particularly canny or fervent Football Knower; however, as someone who disseminates their (usually poor) sports takes on the internet, I think it’s important to possess at least a baseline awareness of the various goings-on around the NFL. The Rams are very good. The Chiefs are very good. Todd Gurley and Patrick Mahomes, the MVP co-frontrunners of the Rams and Chiefs, respectively, are very good. The Cardinals are very bad. The Giants are very bad, but their offensive skill players—quarterback notwithstanding—are very good. Et cetera.

The Cleveland Browns, a team that’s lost 36 of its past 40 games (relatedly, yikes), might be good? They’re 2-4-1, yes, but they should’ve beaten the Steelers, currently the top team in the AFC North, and they definitely should’ve beaten the Saints, a team that looks every bit the contender that the Rams and Chiefs do. Indeed, the Browns have been in every game, save for a 38-14 rout at the hands of the red-hot Chargers, and they taken four opponents to overtime already. That’s wild!

I’ve said on the record that steadfastly assembling a surplus of nebulous draft capital isn’t the shrewdest or most pragmatic team-building strategy, especially when the hoarders have a notorious and hilarious track record of ineptitude when it comes to actually creating a functional and cohesive roster. But these Browns do have a number of promising homegrown franchise centerpieces, including tight end David Njoku, linebacker Joe Schobert, Von Miller clone Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward—who seven games into his NFL career looks like Champ frickin’ Bailey—and, shockingly, Baker Mayfield, the no. 1 overall pick. Mayfield initially struck me as someone with a Drew Brees ceiling and a Johnny Manziel floor, so it’s encouraging—truly it is; this franchise has suffered for too long—to see that he’s been cast somewhere near the centermost point on that vast spectrum, at least for the time being.

Alas, 2018 looks like a bridge year for Cleveland, as was probably intended anyway. For all of the strides they’ve made over the course of a single offseason, the Browns still have their fair share of deficiencies (the receiving corps, for instance, is laughably thin). Of course, the most pronounced malignancy currently plaguing this iteration of the Cleveland Browns is head coach Hue Jackson, who is quite literally one of the worst NFL head coaches in NFL history. One hundred and seventy nine coaches in league history coached 50 or more games; Jackson’s .209 career win percentage ranks 178th (oh, wow, who is that at number 15 on that list...). Jackson shouldn’t be allowed to coach a peewee team, let alone a professional football franchise, one whose once-storied history is now a fart in the wind. Hue Jackson makes Marvin Lewis look like Vince Lombardi.

Jackson is not devoid of confidence, however. Indeed, despite willing just there games in Cleveland in his going-on three seasons there as head coach, Jackson wants to “help” the offense, which is currently being tended to by former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Ripping on Todd Haley is a beloved pastime of this blog, but it isn’t a coincidence that the Steelers offense evolved from a plodding, turgid dumpster fire that activity aided in weekly assassination plots formulated against Ben Roethlisberger into a volcanic, high-scoring outfit that powered the Steelers to four consecutive postseason appearances under his tutelage. Now, Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, and rookie running back Nick Chubb are all nice players, but this triumvirate can’t hold a candle to the Killer B’s, so it isn’t fair to put the recent stagnation of Cleveland’s offense entirely on Haley’s shoulders. I hope Jackson does assume more playcalling responsibilities; him doing so will all but guarantee a Steelers win this Sunday.

The game: Steelers 30, Browns 21

I don’t know, I feel like the Steelers are going to score a lot on Sunday. They’re coming off a bye, which followed a thrilling last-second victory against Cincinnati the week prior, which was exactly the kind of victory the Steelers needed to recalibrate their whole operation and proceed with a renewed sense of confidence, or something.

Pittsburgh collected seven sacks in the aforementioned tie against Cleveland in Week 1, but did so with the erstwhile Tyrod Taylor under center. Mayfield is, to put bluntly, is less deliberate in his decision-making than Taylor, which probably means the Steelers will have a helluva time replicating those incredible sack figures. This isn’t to say that Mayfield is careless, however. He’s thrown five interceptions this season and his accuracy figure (57%) isn’t awesome, but neither figure is really reflective of the kind of quarterback he is. Mayfield’s foremost hallmark—the thing that enabled him to ascend to the top of the draft in the first place—is his ability to command an offense, putting the football exactly where he wants to go. If the coaches actually develop a decent offensive gameplan, the Browns should have enough firepower to keep this game interesting.

I don’t think it will be that interesting. Landry notwithstanding, the offense doesn’t really have any dangerous impact players (also—blistering hot take—Landry is a marginally more exciting Wes Welker, so it’s not like he’s gonna turn the tides of the game alone) and Pittsburgh’s offensive skill players shouldn’t have too many issues exploiting the Browns defense. Most of all, Ben Roethlisberger is playing at home against a team he always beats. I think the Steelers are a safe bet this week.