The Pittsburgh Steelers will be facing a divisional opponent in the first round of the postseason in the Cleveland Browns—the team to whom they just lost today. But history suggests this is not something that should concern them, because they have actually been very successful in such games. In fact, they hold a 9-1 overall postseason record against divisional opponents all-time.
That includes a 2-0 record against the Cleveland Browns, which actually accounts for each of the past two postseason games in Browns history—spread out over 26 years. Their most recent postseason game was a wildcard loss to the Steelers in 2002, in which they overcame a 17-point second-half deficit. Their previous game was a loss to Pittsburgh in 1994.
Both teams are, of course, radically different than they were the last time they faced each other in the postseason. Pretty much the only thing that is the same on the Steelers’ side aside from ownership is Kevin Colbert and perhaps one or two members of the coaching staff.
Asked for his thoughts on facing the Browns for a second week in a row, head coach Mike Tomlin said in his post-game press conference, “I don’t have any. It’s too early for that. Really, I’m just assessing what transpired in that stadium today, and making decisions relative to that. We’ll have tomorrow waiting on us in the morning”.
A bit later in the press conference, he was asked if there was anything that he held back schematically or otherwise knowing the very real possibility that they could be playing the same team again next week and if he was worried about exposing that on tape. “I wasn’t worried about next week, I was worried about this game, and rightfully so”, he said.
By and large, there wasn’t anything that they did in this game that should be surprising under the circumstances. Even the persistence of the deep ball with Mason Rudolph should not be surprising, especially when you consider the fact that the Browns were without four of their five starters in the secondary, three due to Covid-19.
If any team should be concerned about overplaying their hand, it should of course be the Browns, who had far more to play for in yesterday’s game. The Steelers had already clinched the AFC North and, at a minimum, the third seed. Cleveland, as it would turn out, needed to win the game just to make the playoffs, coming in as the sixth seed.