The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Cleveland Browns in one of 10 early kickoffs on Sunday, with a spot in the playoffs still on the table. The Browns, meanwhile, have nothing to play for but the number 1 pick in the 2016 draft. It should also be a farewell game for head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer.
Three keys to the game
1. Standings at stake
Pittsburgh go into Sunday’s game as the #7 seed in the AFC, just outside the playoffs but still mathematically in the hunt. Victory in Cleveland will keep them in with a chance, but it will all be for nothing if the Jets manage to avoid defeat in Buffalo. At the other end of the NFL overall standings, the Browns are currently tied with the Tennessee Titans for the worst record in the league at 3-12. Defeat for Cleveland will see them secure the #1 pick in the draft in April, provided that the Titans avoid defeat in Indianapolis against the Colts.
2. Mike dropped
The word around the league ahead of this game is that it will be the last for Mike Pettine as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The 2nd-year HC has compiled an overall 10-21 record in his two seasons in northern Ohio, both times finishing bottom of the AFC North, and enough appears to be enough for owner Jimmy Haslam. General manager Ray Farmer is also expected to leave the organisation after a three-year spell, two in his current role, and replacements for the duo are reportedly already in the offing.
3. Awful offense v dismal defense
In terms of on-the-field affairs, the Steelers’ offense should be enough to see them through against Cleveland, but you can never be sure in a divisional matchup exactly what the result will be. Pittsburgh’s Achilles heel this season has been a defense that has allowed almost 370 yards a game. But despite that yardage, they’ve only given up just over 20 points per game, and the Browns’ offense has only scored an average of 17.7 points per game all season.
Matchup to watch: Antonio Brown vs Charles Gaines
What will see the Steelers over the line in this game is their offense, and without a doubt, their most potent weapon is WR Antonio Brown. The 6th-year man out of Central Michigan is poised for a career year, 51 yards away from beating his personal best for receiving yards in a season and 94 away from 7,000 career receiving yards. Standing in his and the Steelers’ way is the Browns’ rookie CB Charles Gaines. Concussions have placed Joe Haden on injured reserve and ruled Tramon Williams out of the game, while K’Waun Williams is questionable with a shoulder injury, meaning that Gaines will start only the fifth game of his career out of Louisville.
As much as the Browns may want the first overall pick in the draft, they still have their pride to play for on Sunday, and they’ll be out to make life difficult for their division rivals. However, the talent on the Steelers offense should be enough to see them to victory. Whether or not they’ll make the playoffs, though, is all down to the Jets.