Keith Butler spent four years as a linebackers coach for the Cleveland Browns from 1999 through 2002 when they first returned to the league before he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers’ staff. The 2002 season was the last time Cleveland had been in the postseason. They lost to the Steelers in the wildcard round—after blowing a 17-point lead in the second half.
Before this season, the Browns had posted just one winning season since then, going 10-6 back in 2007. That record was not good enough to make the postseason. Now they are sitting at 10-5. If they can defeat the Steelers can get to 11-5, it would guarantee them their first postseason birth in nearly two decades. But if they fall to 10-6 again, it may not be enough.
Even with the report that the Steelers will be resting some of their top defenders, Butler isn’t interested in doing his former team any favors, and fully intends to give Baker Mayfield and company everything they can handle and more.
“This game is important to us in that it’s in our division, it bodes well for our division record”, Butler told reporters on Thursday, via transcript. “We want to make sure we give Cleveland all they want. We’re not going to let them walk into the playoffs. It’s not a game that we’re not going to be ready to play because our guys want to play, want to be competitive. So, hopefully we are”.
The Browns are in their first season under Kevin Stefanski as head coach, and he has helped them ascend from the basement of the NFL. This is the first season in which they have posted a non-losing record since that 10-6 season in 2007.
As recently as Sunday, they were still in contention for the AFC North, and could have locked up a postseason berth by beating a one-win New York Jets team. They failed to do that, of course, thereby helping the Steelers secure the division title and putting them in nearly a win-or-go-home situation.
Basically, Cleveland needs the Indianapolis Colts to lose to the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday to make the playoffs if they are unable to beat Pittsburgh, which has already announced that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would not be playing.
Other starters are expected to rest, with reportedly T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Maurkice Pouncey among them, while others may be a reduced workload. In spite of this, everybody has made it clear that they still have every intention of winning their final regular season game as they head into the playoffs.