It has long been a tradition when the NFL schedule is released that Pittsburgh Steelers fans look for the Cleveland Browns games and simply put two Ws next to those. After all, the Steelers have defeated the Browns 22 of 25 times since 2001. This lopsided and faded rivalry has Steelers fans starting to look past the Browns and eyeing up the Thanksgiving night matchup against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
One thing is for sure: the Steelers can not overlook the Browns. Not this year, and not for the near future. As dismal as the Browns have been these past 10 or more seasons, they are slowly starting to improve.
That improvement starts on the defensive side of the football. The Browns’ secondary ranks fourth in the NFL against the pass, allowing 207 yard per game and are coming off of a stellar performance against Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton who passed for just 93 yards. Against the run, they are equally as stingy, ranking eighth in the NFL allowing just under the century mark in yards per game.
The one thing that has held this team back is their offense. Their running attack is about as poor as the Steelers’, but their passing attack is nearly as bad, ranking 18th in the NFL at just over 230 yards per game.
The Browns aren’t the doormat of the AFC North anymore; they have found their way into the three-way tie for second place in the AFC North with the Steelers and Ravens. For the first time in a long time, this game is extremely meaningful. Both the Steelers and Browns need this game to keep their seasons alive and to keep themselves in the mix for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.
Lets not forget that the Steelers have struggled in recent years in Cleveland. In their last four trips to Cleveland, they are 2-2, and one of those victories was the horrendous 13-9 victory in 2012. Last season, it was the Charlie Batch-led Steelers who turned the ball over seven times to lose 20-14.
One thing is always synonymous with trips to Cleveland, and that is weather. The weather forecast for this Sunday is going to be cold, windy and with a chance of 1-3 inches of snow to accumulate. Sounds like a typical Sunday in Cleveland on the weather front. What else would you expect to make this game even more intriguing?
If Steelers fans are looking ahead to Baltimore, they might want to think again because the Browns are not a team to take lightly.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz