The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns are one of the more historic rivalries in the history of professional football—with the main issue being that they have rarely been simultaneously good. The Browns were one of the great teams in football in the pre-Super Bowl era, during which the Steelers were where the Browns have been for most of what followed.
Now, for the first time since 2002 (and second since 1994), both teams made the postseason last year. They even played each other, and even though the Steelers were the home team as the division winners, the Browns proved victorious. That’s major bragging rights for a group that hasn’t had any since that one time Peyton Hillis was decent for a year.
“There’s no question about it. I’m a big Kevin Stefanski fan. I just think what he’s done and how he’s gone about it, I think it’s just a great storyline, it’s great for the city of Cleveland. I think that they are definitely back, it is a rivalry”, former Steelers head coach—and former Browns player—Bill Cowher said yesterday on 93.7 The Fan.
And he also believes that the AFC North as a whole is turning around to becoming one of the premiere divisions in football. “You take the Baltimore Ravens, with Lamar, and then all of a sudden Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, I think you’re talking about one of the toughest divisions in football right now in the AFC North”.
“I don’t think a couple years ago you could’ve said that”, he added. “Even as I said with the Bengals, they’ve got a lot of weapons down there—but Cleveland, winning that playoff game, the expectation level out there in Baltimore, we know they’ve been to the playoffs multiple times, it’s gonna be a slugfest all year long”.
The Steelers won the AFC North with a 12-4 record last season, on the strength of a 11-0 start. They ultimately went 4-2 in the division, defeating the Ravens twice (including once in the COVID Bowl), while splitting games with the Bengals and Browns.
The loss to the Bengals was their most shameful of the season, coming after Burrow’s injury, while the loss to the Browns in the season finale came while the Steelers were resting starters in Cleveland was in a play-in situation to make the postseason for the first time since 2002.
The Browns have had many, many false starts over the span of the past two decades, mirages that hinted at inevitable success that turned out to be the same tepid puddle of sludge over and over again. This time finally feels different, but with so many failures on their rearview mirror, skepticism is understandable.