Steel City Sports Pre-Game

<b>Pittsburgh at Cleveland</b><p> The final roadblock on the freeway to the AFC North division crown lies in Cleveland on Sunday. In September, the Browns and Steelers played what can only be described as one of the wackiest matches ever in their history. The Steelers escaped with a 16 –13 win in the 100th meeting between these two bitter rivals.<p>

Meeting No. 101 has more importance as both teams have experienced complete turnarounds as the season's unfolded. Pittsburgh, since winning in week 4 to the Browns, are 3 – 1. The Browns on the other hand are 2 – 2. But, if not for an amazing comeback by Tim Couch last Sunday, the Browns would be 1 – 3.

But, the most important record is the divisional record. The Browns are 1 – 2 with losses to the Steelers and Ravens, whereas the Steelers post a 3 – 0 record. Should the Steelers win, a 4 – 0 record within the division would be insurmountable for the Browns and they would need to pull ahead of the Steelers by a full game.

Even if the Browns win this weekend their divisional record would be 2 – 2, while the Steelers would fall to 3 – 1. The Browns would still have to win out in the division while the Steelers would have to lose both home matchups against the Ravens and Bengals.

So, from the above standpoint, the Browns must win this week or their playoff chances, already slim, become none (barring a complete letdown by Pittsburgh in the second half of the season).

Defense: The Steelers defense allowed close to 300 yards passing last week because they gave the underneath passing to Jeff Blake all day. The problem was that they didn't get any push on the defensive line and many of their blitzes were picked up by the Raven offensive line. The Browns will be without starting secondary men Corey Fuller and Robert Griffith, which will present a problem stopping the Steeler wide outs. The Browns need to stop the Steelers' rushing attack if they have any hope of winning the game. In Week 4 the Browns allowed only 93 yards of rushing and no Steeler rusher ran for over 35 yards.

Advantage: I like the Steelers defense to get after Tim Couch early and often.

Offense: The Steelers will be without Jerome Bettis again. However, the Steelers have been able to build heavy first half leads and then ride the lead the rest of the way. Plaxico Burress has become the scoring machine he was expected to be in the pre-season and Hines Ward continues to post strong numbers. It's official that this offense's stars now appear in the wide receiving corp. The Browns have finally benched William Green for good, but Jamel White isn't the answer. Quincy Morgan was benched last week, but I think Dennis Northcutt and Kevin Johnson are a capable pair even if Johnson is overrated.

Advantage: The Steelers offense will struggle with both Fu and Bettis out, but I still think they're better.

Quarterbacks: Tommy Maddox is due for a down game and I think it might be this weekend. With Fu and Bettis out this weekend, Maddox's decision-making will once again be put to the test.

Tim Couch on the other hand is an enigma to me. Some weeks he'll go out and scorch the defense for 300 yards and others he throws less than 150.

Advantage: I'm going out on a limb and say that Tim Couch will have a better day than Tommy Maddox.

Outlook: The Steelers need to be patient and need to get a few breaks, but I like them in a low scoring affair by 2.

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