The 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 0-15 Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon in a Week 17 AFC North division matchup to close out the regular season. It will be very cold Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh and this game only has significance to the home team should a very unlikely scenario take place while they’re playing the Browns. While the Steelers are currently considered touchdown favorites against the Browns, there are several key storylines worth pointing out ahead of that contest.
Below are what I consider to be the top five storylines for both teams ahead of the Sunday game that will kick off at 1:00 p.m. EST in Pittsburgh.
Deebo dump – The Steelers waived veteran linebacker James Harrison last Saturday afternoon and since then he’s signed with the New England Patriots. Since then, several Steelers players have made it clear that Harrison wasn’t a great teammate this season and that he essentially forced his way out of Pittsburgh by being a disgruntled player. Harrison has since offered up his thoughts on his exit from the Steelers and claims he asked the team to play him or cut several times during the season as he was under the understanding that he would have played more than he was playing. In essence, Harrison said he wasn’t interested in getting a participation trophy from the Steelers this season. A few players now believe that Harrison has tarnished his Steelers legacy forever, but they forget that forever is a very long tine.
Hilton honors – Steelers first year cornerback Mike Hilton was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 16 on Tuesday and in doing so he became the first Pittsburgh defensive back to garner the award since former safety Troy Polamalu won it in 2013. In the Steelers Monday win over the Houston Texans, Hilton became the third defensive back in franchise history to get three sacks in a game. The former undrafted free agent out of Mississippi also had a forced fumble in the game and was third on the team with six tackles. Hilton has been quite a find this year for the Steelers.
Awards awarded – The Steelers players voted wide receiver Antonio Brown the team’s MVP this season and that wasn’t overly surprising. Also not surprising was wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster being named the team’s 2017 Rookie of the Year by the Pittsburgh Chapter of Pro Football Writers of America. Smith-Schuster, the team’s second-round draft pick this year, beat out outside linebacker T.J. Watt for the “Joe Greene Great Performance Award,” given annually to the Steelers top rookie. In a little bit of a surprise, Steelers guard David DeCastro was named the Steelers 2017 recipient of the “The Chief Award,” presented annually to a member of the team that best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media.
To sit or not to sit – During his Tuesday press conference Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin refused to tip his hand as it relates to if he would rest a few of his key starters against the Browns. However, as the week progressed it’s become very clear that several key players such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Cameron Heyward aren’t likely to play against the Browns and a few more names might be added to that list. Unless the New York Jets can somehow find a way to the upset the Patriots on Sunday the Steelers game against the Browns is meaningless.
Oh and 16 – The Browns haven’t won a game all season and on Sunday they’re hoping to not become the second team in the history of the NFL to go 0-16. Some fans of the team have already raised some money for a perfect season parade should the Browns lose Sunday to the Steelers. Regardless of if Cleveland wins or not on Sunday their head coach Hue Jackson has already agreed to jump into Lake Erie being as he promised that his team wouldn’t go 1-15 again this year.