The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have a whole lot to play for on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. The best possible outcome that they could achieve is moving from the third seed in the AFC playoffs to the second seed, those being the only two remaining possible outcomes.
To be clear, they will be no worse than the third seed, and in order to secure the second seed, the Miami Dolphins must beat the Buffalo Bills, who didn’t look anything like a team that was about to lose any time soon in their thrashing of the New England Patriots last night.
The Browns, on the other hand, have everything to play for. With a 10-5 record, they have already done far better than any other Browns team has in more than a decade, but they just went from possibly playing for the AFC North title to just hoping to get into the postseason after losing to the previously one-win New York Jets.
And so, a game after Cleveland had to play with basically all of its meaningful wide receiver due to the Covid-19 protocol, they may well be facing a Steelers team on Sunday that will be fielding a b-squad helmed by Mason Rudolph, and featuring J.C. Hassenauer at center, Chris Wormley along the defensive line, and, if healthy, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi getting after the passer.
That’s not where Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski’s mind is at, however. After all, his team did just lose to the Jets, so he shouldn’t be focusing on whom Pittsburgh might or might not dress. “I am going to really concern myself with the Cleveland Browns, and we will get into our preparation for Pittsburgh in the next couple of days”, he told reporters on Monday when asked about whether or not his plans would change based on whether or not he knew who would be playing.
“The challenge is playing a really good Pittsburgh Steelers team. They are well-coached. They have a bunch of good players. I have a ton of respect for how they play. We have to have a great week of preparation. That is the challenge for us is a really good team”.
For about three and a half weeks, of course, the Steelers looked like anything but a challenge. They came alive in the second half of Sunday’s game to storm back from a 17-point deficit and knock off the Indianapolis Colts, however.
The last thing Pittsburgh wanted to do was enter the postseason on a five-game losing streak, which feels like it might be unheard of, though perhaps not. Still, it’s certainly plausible that they do so having lost four out of five, depending upon the decision of who will play and who will sit.