Any given Sunday, any NFL team can beat another. Here's why I'm concerned about the Steelers' match-up with the Browns Sunday, and you should be too.
Defense, running the ball and more defense
Any team fully committed to running the ball and stopping the run becomes a tough team to beat. Look at the New York Jets last season. Sure, the Steelers mopped the floor with them early in the season, but down the stretch, the Jets made life very difficult for several teams. Why? Because they were committed to running the ball and they were committed to stopping the run. You can put a below-standard quarterback under center and probably end up losing more than winning but, with the combination of defense and a ground game, you're going to pull off a few unexpected wins. Cleveland is built for that.
The "new" quarterback
Dick LeBeau and the Steelers are 28-13 against quarterbacks making their first starts against Pittsburgh. That's a nice stat, but it also includes a 4-3 clip against them last year. The defensive performance against Matthew Stafford and the Lions last year was a mixed bag - Calvin Johnson had 170 receiving yards while the team held Stafford to a completion percentage barely over 50. It seems passers with one weapon are being largely shut down by the Steelers' defense but still are getting their one weapon to work. Terrelle Pryor had one big play in the game last year and that was enough for Oakland to hold onto a win. This isn't Jason Campbell under center anymore. Hoyer hasn't seen the Steelers' defense live any more than the Steelers defense has seen him live. It isn't a reason to wave the white flag but it's food for thought.
The Steelers haven't won an opener since taking out Atlanta with Dennis Dixon starting in place of the suspended Ben Roethlisberger in 2010. That team's defense was dominant, while this year's team doesn't appear to have that kind of firepower. While it's one of the best offenses the franchise has seen the last several years, the simple fact is this team hasn't played well in an opening game for quite a while. Granted, they aren't opening at Baltimore or Denver in prime time, but the offense looked pathetic against Tennessee last season and we just don't know what kind of defense is going to hit the Heinz Field turf Sunday. This should be a concern.
The Steelers are 6.5-point favorites in this game for a reason and Cleveland simply may not have enough firepower to stick with Pittsburgh punch for punch, but this will be a tight, competitive game. If only one score separates two NFL teams heading into the fourth quarter, anything can happen, and Cleveland appears to have built their team to get into those kinds of games.