Cleveland, we have finally reached the end. No more #16QBsIn16. No more #OhFor16In16. The Browns (1-14) mercifully won last week and still managed to retail pole position in the 2017 Draft. Now all that’s left is to clean out some lockers, make offseason plans, and march into the sunset.
Oh, and also play the club’s most historic long term rival the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5).
Are the Browns Favored?
In keeping with tradition, no. For the sixteenth and final time this season the Browns will enter the contest as underdogs. Pittsburgh is favored by six points.1 Las Vegas was not especially confident in the Browns this year, but maybe a strong draft can let them enter as favorites at least once next year. Baby steps.
Do the Steelers Care?
Not really. Last week Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North with a 31-27 victory over the Ravens. This season marks the team’s seventh division title, the most recent since 2014. If the playoffs started today, the Steelers would host the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card Round. The opponent may change to the Kansas City Chiefs depending on how this weekend goes, but either way the Steel City will once again ring in the new year with a home playoff game. Two hours northwest, the Forest City sits fuming.
The Steelers’ Week 11 win over the Browns kicked off a six game winning streak which the team is still riding. They have knocked off Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Giants, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and most recently Baltimore looking for another perfect December. Most notably, the Black and Yellow are 4-1 against divisional foes – the lone loss coming at Baltimore in Week 9. Pittsburgh’s season shows that even an unappetizing four game losing streak can be overcome if a team dominates its division.
The Browns-Steelers rivalry has been anything but since 1999. To wit:
- The Browns have not swept the Steelers in a single season since 1988.
- The Browns have only one winning streak since returning and it consisted of all of two games on November 14, 1999 and September 17, 2000.
- The Browns have not won in Pittsburgh since October 5, 2003.
The point is, the younger generation of Browns fan likely does not see this club as the team’s chief rival. There has not been enough back-and-forth, not enough misery on both sides to really make it sizzle like it did in the 1970s and 1980s. That rivalry belongs to my father and his generation. Younger Browns fans, who don’t remember before The Move, would be hard pressed to find a comparable rival. Baltimore has shown equal aptitude at defeating the Browns. Cincinnati offers the in-state angle, but there is an “Ohio Against the World” brotherhood which softens that matchup. There is no obvious candidate for the modern Browns chief rival. After all, a nail is not considered rival to a hammer.
Last week the 2016 Browns proved they are in fact better than the 2008 Detroit Lions—at least on paper. Once they hit 0-8 that’s really all we wanted to see them prove. With a win in hand, and the No. 1 pick locked up there is not much else this team can accomplish.
“Wait!” I hear you cry. “What about the Steelers game on Sunday?”
Oh yes, I’d forgotten. Even with nothing to play for, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have more talent on one side of the ball than the Browns have in all three phases. The Browns should still try their damndest (I’m confident they will), but at this point the next loss is just another log on the roaring fire of failure. Let the season burn. We start again after the Super Bowl. The 2017 Browns are 0-0. Let’s see which digit changes first.
- If it’s any consolation, the line was closer to 13 before the Steelers beat Baltimore in Week 16, meaning the they would now rest quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell. [↩]