Cleveland Browns can change narrative vs. Steelers
After almost two decades of pure futility, the Cleveland Browns get their shot to prove plenty against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card round.
The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers have long been called rivals. Although, one would be hard-pressed to find when it was a legitimate rivalry.
In the 1950s, the Browns were an annual participant in the NFL Championship Game. Meanwhile from their inception in 1933 until 1972, the Steelers never played in a postseason tilt. By the ’70s, Cleveland was terrible and the Steelers were in the midst of a four-title dynasty. In the ’80s, the Browns had the upper hand. Since, it’s been all Pittsburgh.
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Now, the two AFC North — and previously AFC Central — neighbors meet in the AFC Wild Card. Incredibly, this is the third straight postseason matchup for the Browns in Pittsburgh. Cleveland visited Heinz Field during its most-recent playoff appearance in 2002, and then before that, went to Three Rivers Stadium in 1994.
Of course, things won’t be easier this time around. Cleveland went 11-5 despite having a negative point differential. This week, the Browns are going to be without head coach Kevin Stefanski and star corner Denzel Ward due to COVID-19 restrictions.
If the Browns can overcome it all, including their heavy history, it would be a game-changing evening on national television for the franchise. The city of Cleveland, while certainly hoping for a Cinderella run to the Super Bowl, would be thrilled and ultimately satisfied if the Browns can win their first playoff game since taking down Bill Parcells and the New England Patriots in 1994.
If it’s going to happen, Cleveland desperately needs Baker Mayfield to play one of his best games. Pittsburgh has one of the league’s best and most physical defenses, led by a staunch front including edge rusher T.J. Watt, and defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward. Undeniably, defensive coordinator Keith Butler is going to bring pressure and attempt to stymie the run abasing Browns star backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb.
Should the Steelers succeed, Mayfield needs to win on second-and-longs and obvious passing downs on third. If he can do so, Cleveland has a real chance to handle business and make a visit the Arrowhead Stadium next weekend, drawing the world-champion Kansas City Chiefs.
If the Browns lose Sunday, they’re no shame and the season was successful. But if they win, a new identity is born, and a history is forgotten.