The Browns come into the final game of wild card weekend as 6 point underdogs against a Steelers team that they defeated 24-22 just last week. The problem for Cleveland is they will now be without all pro guard Joel Bitonio for the matchup and head coach Kevin Stefanski, who are both on the COVID-19 list. Lets take a look at what both teams need to do to come away with a win Sunday night.
For the Browns to win
Cleveland has only played Pittsburgh twice in the playoffs, and both games didn't end well for the usual AFC North bottom dwellers. The Browns also haven't won a game at Heinz Field since 2003, when Tim Couch led the team to a 33-13 blowout win against Charlie Batch and the Steelers. Although, this game may be the best chance Cleveland has had in a long time. Cleveland will need to get their two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt going in the backfield. Chubb finished 7th in the league in rush yards despite missing 6 games due to an injury, including the loss to the Steelers. If Chubb can get going, it takes the pressure off of Baker Mayfield and allows him to take chances over the top of a questionable Steelers secondary. Ball security will need to be a #1 priority for Mayfield, as the Steelers pass rush is relentless and always looking to force a fumble.
For the Steelers to win
Pittsburgh comes into this game after nearly beating Cleveland last week with mostly backups. Usually this would bring a lot of confidence, the problem is, the Steelers starters haven't played much better over the last 7 weeks of the season. The Steelers need to run the ball, they cannot be one dimensional. The short quick passes may work in the regular season, but when the play gets more physical in the playoffs, those open quick routes disappear. The Browns defense is susceptible to over the top passes, but if the Steelers don't run the ball the Browns can sit back in coverage and force Ben to throw into tight windows that may result in turnovers. The defense for Pittsburgh also has to so better against the run. Last week, Chubb did break a few big runs and ended up over 100 yards and a few scores. They need to force Baker Mayfield to stand in the pocket and allow the pass rushers to do what they do best.
I think the Steelers do get the job done Sunday night, but this game will be a lot closer than people think. Not having Stefanski will be a blow for Cleveland, but I think it may allow Mayfield to play loose and will relieve some expectation/pressure in his first playoff game. This game will be physical and low scoring. Steelers win 20-17