Updated: Jan 11
The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to host the Cleveland Browns this Sunday evening to finish off the wildcard round for the 2020-2021 NFL playoffs. This matchup should make for an extremely competitive Prime Time game, and the fact that it is between AFC North division rivals just makes it that much more exciting. In a win or go home scenario for both these teams, I truly believe that this is anybody's game to win and expect for an absolute thriller to ensue to close out the wildcard round. With no further delay, let's get into my picks for the game.
The Browns are coming off a high in week 17 where they were faced with a must-win scenario in order to make the playoffs, and they were able to pull through and win and secure a playoff position for the first time in 25 years. To make things better the team that they beat to get in was the Steelers in this must-win scenario to make the playoffs, so this could provide the Browns with the momentum that they need going into this rematch one week later. Unfortunately, Cleveland will be without all-pro guard Joe Bitonio as well as head coach and offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski who both play a major part in Cleveland's offensive success as they both tested positive for COVID-19. This is likely to play a major impact on the football game, and it is extremely important for the Browns that they stick to what they do best with their run and play-action game and don't let their gameplan get drift away. Cleveland also has 7 impact starters listed as questionable including Myles Garrett and Wyatt Teller, but expect all of these guys to suit up considering the circumstances. The Browns may have a completely new play-caller, but as of late Baker Mayfield has been playing some of the best football of his career so they should be able to rely on him and Nick Chubb to put up points against this sturdy Steelers defense.
At one point this season, the Steelers were undisputedly considered the best team in football as they started the season 11-0. After a perfect start to the season, the team ran into a few hiccups and lost three games in a row, with two of the losses being against opponents that they had no business losing to. Despite this, Big Ben lead the team to a comeback win in week 16 against the Colts and they seemed to find their stride again at the perfect time. Although they lost week 17 against the Browns, in that game the Steelers were resting many of their starters who should be fresh and ready to go for the wildcard round. The Steelers have no one on their injury report coming into this game, so they should be as healthy as they can be despite missing a few key pieces on defense that were lost due to season-ending injuries (eg. Devin Bush, Bud Dupree). The Browns have a mediocre defense, but are very well rounded of offense and are a great football team, so it is extremely important that the Steelers defense shows up. The Steelers have had a lot of issues on offense in the second half of the season, and in order to win this game they will need to fix these issues and Big Ben will need to score points through the air against Brown's defense. If the Steelers are able to limit the Browns run game, I don't think that Baker Mayfield will be able to single-handedly win this game for Cleveland so force him to keep the ball in the air.
I'm extremely interested in seeing what the initial dynamic of this game is from kickoff because I think that it will be telling as to how the rest of the game will follow. The Steelers seem to be a team that is heavily impacted by momentum, so if the Steelers' offense is working early, I expect their defense to also step up and they will put themselves in a fantastic position to win this football game. But if the Browns come out swinging early and Big Ben struggles as he has in the second half of the season, then it would not be surprising at all if the Browns blow this game open. I think that we are in store for an extremely exciting game, which makes for an excellent finish to the 2020-2021 NFL wildcard round.