What is a rivalry? The definition could vary from person to person, and for many, it requires that the parties involved in said rivalry represent a relatively equal status, if not generally, then at least within the scope of the rivalry itself.
For example, prior to earlier this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had beaten the Cincinnati Bengals 11 straight times. Is that a rivalry? They have certainly played from very heated and close games within that span of time.
Within the past decade, the Steelers have a 17-3-1 record against the Cleveland Browns as well, and two of the three games that the Steelers lost were games started by Charlie Batch and Mason Rudolph. Is this a rivalry?
It won’t matter on Sunday when the two teams play each other. Whether it’s a rivalry or not by anybody’s specific standards, they will be two opponents who are very familiar with one another, generally have respect for one another, but also have some bad blood—and want to see the other team lose.
“It’s a lot of motivation. I think for a lot of us, it’s more so being an AFC North division team, and knocking them out of the playoffs”, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said about potentially being motivated to win because they can play a role in ensuring that Cleveland does not reach the postseason this year.
“Obviously, we want to go out and win every game, but our mindset’s to go in here, win the game, and go home”, he continued. “But they’re a good team, so I can’t wait to see what they can do, and what we can do to Cleveland”.
In spite of the apparent major strides that the Browns had made this year—their 10 wins are already more than they have had in any season in over a decade—the Steelers still made them look like the kid brother when they played earlier this year, in a dominant 38-7 victory.
Cleveland insists that they have become a better team since then (and will have Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb available this time), while the Steelers figure to be resting a number of starters. This one will also be played in Cleveland, rather than Pittsburgh.
But those who suit up for the Steelers will still have every motivation to win, and to beat the Browns specifically. The first priority of every season is to win your division, and that starts with winning the games against your divisional opponents. They already let one slip against the Bengals. Even though they don’t have much to play for, AFC North bragging rights are always up for grabs.