NFL Sunday Night Football: Steelers/Browns Preview

by Big Al Staff

The conclusion to the Super Wild Card Playoff Weekend triple-header on Sunday has Cleveland visiting Pittsburgh for the third installment this season of their AFC North rivalry.

The Browns ended their 17-year playoff drought last weekend with their 24-22 victory over the Steelers. Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 27 passes for 196 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions. Nick Chubb added 108 yards on the ground from 14 carries.

Mayfield has completed 62.8% of his passes in his third season in the league for 3563 yards with 26 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. The former Heisman Trophy winner has struggled in his three career starts in Pittsburgh. Mayfield has lost all three games while averaging only 165 passing yards-per-game with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He got sacked 11 times while posting a low 70.6 passer rating in those games. Not only did the Browns lose all three games, they only averaged 16.5 points-per-game.

The more pressing concern for the Cleveland organization has been managing the COVID outbreak in their organization. Quarantine guidelines will prevent first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski from being on the sidelines and communicating with his team and coaching staff during the game. Special teams coach Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays. The Browns were able to get back to the practice field on Friday after quarantining for most of the week.

Injuries and COVID keep Cleveland far from at full strength for their return to the postseason. Pro-Bowl guard Joel Bitonio, cornerback Denzel Ward, and safety Ronnie Harrison, Jr. is the most significant losses for them to COVID. The Browns will also be without tight end Harrison Bryant, wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, cornerback Kevin Johnson, safety Jovante Moffat, and linebacker Malcolm Smith.

The Browns also have been hit by injuries with the loss to defensive end Olivier Vernon to his Achilles’ injury. Vernon is second on the team with nine sacks. Cleveland also has the following seven players listed as questionable: wide receiver Donovan People-Jones; tackle Jack Conklin; defensive end Myles Garrett; cornerback Terrance Mitchell; defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson; cornerback M.J. Stewart guard Wyatt Teller. People-Jones did pass the concussion protocol at the end of the week and practiced on Friday. Stefanski is optimistic that at least Garrett and Richardson will be able to play.

Pittsburgh has no players on their final injury report this week. Cornerback Joe Haden is the only player on their COVID list. The Steelers have sustained injuries this season with seven players either out the year or on their Injured Reserve, with starting linebackers Devin Bush and Marcus Dupree being the most notable.

The Steelers were able to rest some starters last week in the loss to the Browns after being locked into the third seed. Ben Roethlisberger was able to get the game off with backup Mason Rudolph completing 22 of 39 passes for 315 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception.

Roethlisberger is completing 65.6% of his passes this season for 3803 yards with 33 touchdown passes and ten interceptions. He has owned Cleveland in his career when playing at home in Heinz Field, where he sports a 13-0 record with the average scoring being 28-13. The Steelers won the first meeting between these two teams by a 38-7 score at home on October 18th.

BookMaker lists the Steelers as a 6-point favorite with the total set at 46.5. Kickoff on NBC is at 8:15 PM ET.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2021 Al McMordie's BigAl.com. All Rights Reserved.