It’s all over but the crying. On Christmas Eve the Cleveland Browns (0-15) squandered their last best chance to win a game during the 2017 season. A low-effort, uninspired club let the Chicago Bears walk all over them while wishing they were somewhere warmer for the holidays. With only one game separating the Browns from professional football infamy, let’s take a look ahead and see who will have the oppor- dammit it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3).
Are the Browns favored?
Why start now? Cleveland will travel to the Steel City as seven point underdogs. Considering the talent difference between the two clubs that line feels a little disrespectful to the Steelers.
Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 73-58. The Black and Yellow have won five in a row and nine of their past ten games against Cleveland. That includes their opening week victory, 21-18, in Ohio. Cleveland has not beaten their biggest “rival” since October 2014 when Brian Hoyer threw for 217 yards and a touchdown. When Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996 they had a winning record against the Steelers: 52-41. The Browns are 6-32 against Pittsburgh since returning from the dead which seems to have irrevocably flipped momentum into Western PA. Cleveland has not beaten Pittsburgh on the road since October 5, 2003.
Mike Tomlin’s club has clinched both the AFC North and a first-round bye. They share a 12-3 record with the New England Patriots, but the Pats have the head-to-head edge which gives them the top spot. Pittsburgh technically has something to play for; if they win and the Pats lose to the Jets then they could claim homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Considering how pitiful the Jets have looked this season a Pats win feels like a foregone conclusion so it remains to be seen how many Steeler starters will play and for how long. We already know that all-world wide receiver Antonio Brown will not suit up on Sunday due to a partially torn left calf muscle. No doubt that will be welcome news for the Browns’ secondary. It would not be surprising if the Steelers treated their Week 17 matchup like a preseason game; if the Pats start to run up the score against New York expect to see some starters switch to baseball caps.
You’ve heard all these names before. Ben Roethlisberger still takes the snaps for Pittsburgh. The 35-year-old threw for 360-of-561 passing, 4,251 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions this season. Former Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell has turned in another masterful year with 1,291 yards on 321 carries along with 9 touchdowns. Brown’s offensive prowess will be missed, but the Steelers still employ WR Juju Smith-Schuster who has pocketed 49 receptions for 774 yards and 6 scores. If the starters sit you can expect Landry Jones at quarterback and Fitzgerald Toussaint in the backfield.
There are precious few storylines worth pursuing in Sunday’s season finale. The Browns locked up the No. 1 overall pick with the loss to Chicago. Currently they also hold the No. 4 overall pick via the Houston Texans. Houston (4-11) hosts Indianapolis (3-12) on Sunday. If the Colts defeat the Texans then they will have swept the season series and tied the Texans in the standings. That would allow Houston to jump up to the third overall pick which would give Cleveland two of the first three selections with the New York Giants sandwiched at number two. Draft afficianados would do well to keep on eye on that game as well. Isaiah Crowell would need to collect 168 yards to cross the thousand yard mark (not likely), Duke Johnson Jr. would need to amass 382 receiving yards to cross the same barrier (less likely), and DeShone Kizer would need to throw five interceptions to tie the franchise’s single-season record of 26 that Brian Sipe set in 1979 (let’s not rule anything out).
Since 1960 four NFL teams have suffered through a winless season:
- 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1)
- 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14)
- 1982 Baltimore Colts* (0-8-1)
- 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)
*A players’ strike shortened the 1982 season to nine games.
A loss on Sunday would induct the 2017 Browns into this rogues’ gallery of football miscreants. There is of course the “Any Given Sunday” principle which suggests the Browns have a chance to secure their only win of the calendar year this weekend, but common sense and keen observation suggests dead men walking in Heinz Field on Sunday. No matter what happens just remember that the Browns are officially on the clock for the 2018 NFL Draft. Until then they’ll be Waiting for Ne-… you know the rest.