The Pittsburgh Steelers are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. They will look to pick up their first playoff victory since 2016 against the reeling Cleveland Browns. The Browns are without a plethora of coaches and players due to Covid-19, while the Steelers will be 100% healthy (minus the three torn ACL players) for the first time all season. In a rematch of Week 17 the Steelers are only -6 point favorites but winning by anything less than 14 points would probably worry most of Steelers nation...
8:15 PM EST Sunday, the Steelers will return home in what could potentially be the final home game for the Steelers in the 2020/2021 league year. The Steelers beat the Browns 38-7 back in Week 6 within the confines of Heinz Field. The last time the Browns knocked off the Steelers was way back in 2003, and the last time the Browns made the playoffs was in 2002. The last time those Browns made the playoffs they came into Pittsburgh and lost to a Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala last minute touchdown. History is on the Steelers side, but history alone won't win you a game.
Browns Best Player
In both previous matchups against the Browns I had picked Myles Garrett as their best player. I’m going to switch it up this week as Garrett has been battling injuries and still isn't quite himself since battling Covid-19.
This week I'm going with Nick Chubb. Chubb has been one of the best running backs in the NFL since he entered the league. The Browns will feature their star runner early and often, and will rely on his success for team success. If the Browns get away from the running game they will not be successful in Pittsburgh. Sunday will be the Nick Chubb show, and it will be up to the Steelers defense to take him out of the game
Weakest position group
The Browns have two glaring holes thanks to Covid-19. While the issues at cornerback are still just as bad for the Browns as it was a week ago I’m going to highlight the newest Browns issue.
Joel Bitonio was diagnosed with Covid-19 and will miss Sunday’s game. Looking at the Browns injury report you will notice that both backups, Kelvin Beachum and Nick Harris are out. That leaves former XFLer and practice squad player, Michael Dunn as the Browns starting right guard. When you further factor in Jack Conklin might miss the game with injuries and illness and you can see the right side of the Browns offensive line is in a really bad place.
Kevin Stefanski will not be involved in this game. As per covid-19 protocol the Browns head coach will only be allowed to be in contact with his players and coaches up until 90 minutes to kick off. Instead special teams coach, Mike Priefer will take over head coaching duties. While former Pitt Panthers quarterback Alex Van Pelt will handle play calling for the first time all year. No two ways about this, it is a mess for the Browns. The coaching advantage now leans so heavily in the Steelers favor it isn't even funny. To put the cherry on top the Browns were only able to have one practice and one walk through before this playoff game.
How will the Browns attack the Steelers defense
This is a really good question... At the very least the Browns will have to make sure to put the ball in Nick Chubb’s hands as many times as possible. With so many offensive lineman out or playing injured the Browns won't have the luxury of sitting Baker Mayfield in the pocket. The Browns will have to rely on running the ball, screen passes, and quick throws. If they get down by any margin of points it could spell bad news for the Browns.
How will the Browns defend the Steelers offense
With Denzel Ward, Kevin Johnson, and now Olivier Vernon out the Steelers should be able to double team Myles Garret and let Ben set up shop in the pocket. The Steelers back ups very nearly knocked off the Browns last week by throwing jump balls and check downs. It really shouldn't take much more than that to win with the starting lineup. The Browns might be forced to send heavy pressure all day to try to force Ben in Mistakes, but a one on one Chase Claypool towers over every healthy Browns corner. This has pick your poison written all over it.
If Baker Mayfield turns the ball over just one time I think you would be able to stick the proverbial dagger into the Cleveland Browns season. If it means anything Baker had a turnover free day in Week 17 against the Steelers defense that was resting T.J. Watt, and Cameron Heyward, and oh yeah Robert Spillane will be officially active this week. Baker will need to play the best game of his career if his Browns are going to pull off the upset.
Sunday, 8:15PM EST. We will find out if the rest has paid off for the Steelers and if they can advance to the divisional round against the Buffalo Bills.