Steelers-Browns: Rare, Late, Meaningful

The Steelers and Browns are both 4-6, but to today's winner there is hope for an NFL playoff berth. Here's the preview:

The Steelers rarely say much provacative about an upcoming opponent, particularly one that hasn't beaten them more than five times in 29 meetings. And the 4-6 Steelers didn't cross the line this week as they prepared to travel to Cleveland to face the 4-6 Browns.

Except for maybe one person: the team president.

"Certainly there are a lot of our fans who still consider Cleveland to be a big rivalry," Steelers president Art Rooney II of Cleveland. "But there's no doubt, because of the competition we've had with Baltimore and the fact we've had a lot of meaningful games with them, that has created a rivalry with them.

"It's probably fair to say (Baltimore)'s our biggest rival right now."

Couldn't let sleeping dawgs lie, could he?

While both teams are 4-6, it's really the first time in the history of Browns II that the two rivals -- situated almost half as close as the Steelers-Baltimore Ravens -- have played a game as meaningful to both teams this late in the regular season as this one.

The Steelers and Browns may have losing records in the 11th week of the season, but they're part of a group of eight teams that are within one game of each other in the race for the second and last wild-card playoff berth.

The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins are sitting in front of the race for the sixth spot with 5-5 records, but the Steelers are the betting favorite of the eight-team group, with odds of winning the Super Bowl at 75-1according to

The reason the Steelers are a game behind and still the betting favorite is because of one man: Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger, the Findlay, Ohio, native who was passed over in the 2004 draft by the Browns, has been making them pay ever since. He's 15-1 against the Browns, with the only loss coming in the 2009 game in which he dropped back to throw on 41 of 62 snaps in 48 m.p.h. gusts that caused the wind-chill temperature of six degrees below zero.

Will history repeat itself with the newly freed Roethlisberger running a no-huddle offense?

Well, it will similarly cold in Cleveland. The game-time forecast is for 20-30 m.p.h. winds that will force the expected high of 27 degrees to plummet, along with a 70 percent chance of snow. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't talk about weather conditions earlier this week when he discussed the potential for more extended use of the no-huddle offense, a week after opening the game that way against the Detroit Lions.

"We're more pass-oriented in no-huddle," Tomlin explained. "We thought that was a strength of ours relative to the match-up. We'll see what strength of ours is relative to this match-up this week."

The match-up this week is similar in that the Browns -- like the Lions last week -- have two large defensive tackles that will make running the ball difficult.

Inside for the Browns are 330-pound Ahtyba Rubin and 335-pound Phil Taylor. Tomlin called them "special players. They crush the run. They are imposing people. You have to block them with multiple people usually."

Whereas the Lions, who allow an average of 4.2 per carry, surrendered only 40 rushing yards on 27 Steelers carries, the Browns allow only 3.5 yards per carry. The tackles and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson are the main cogs.

The Browns also have a much better pass rush and secondary.

Led by rookie Barkevious Mingo and veteran rushers Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger, the Browns have 31 sacks (compared to the Lions' 16) and allow a league-low 5.9 yards per pass attempt (compared to the Lions' 7.5).

So the match-up may not be as conducive to a no-huddle approach as it was last Sunday, particularly with the wintry weather.

The Steelers may have to win this game with an old-fashioned nod to field position. They have the better quarterback, of course. Roethlisberger far out-points Jason Campbell in passer rating, 91.3 to 80. And the Browns' special teams lack the dangerous return man they once had in Josh Cribbs and the clutch place-kicker they had for years in Phil Dawson.

While the Browns have the homefield advantage, the Steelers are underdogs in Cleveland for the first time since 2003, when, as three-point underdogs, they beat the Browns 13-6.

"It's an AFC North game," was all Roethlisberger had to say about the Steelers' underdog status. "It's a big game for both teams. It's not easy to going in there and playing, and they're playing pretty good, especially on defense. We're going to have to be on our game.

"The weather is usually crazy. The wind is blowing through, and there's the dog pound. Not much else needs to be said."

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