STEELER WEEK #18 CLEVELAND-("COVID GRUDGE MATCH")
Remember how much was fuss Steelers fans made about the early season postponement of the Tennessee Titans game? Covid-19 affected the Titans and the situation later led to Pittsburgh taking a unscheduled bye week and eventually playing three games in 12 days. This result was a three-game losing streak that left questions marks even as we head into the postseason. However, truth be told, Covid-19 had less to do with the streak than injuries and the teams they played.
Three months later and the Steelers are about to get caught in the Covid crosshairs of another team. This time it's Wildcard Playoff opponent and fellow AFC North dweller Cleveland. The Browns are back in the postseason for the first time in 18 years and its looking more and more like it will be a very short stay, due in part to ...the disease.
Of course there are not many who think they will beat the Steelers in the season's grudge match, but as kickoff grows closer and closer, any chances they may have had for an upset are being quarantined away.
It's one thing to have a player or two on the virus time-out list, but not only do the Browns have players out, so is Head Coach Kevin Stefanski. He will watch at home on tv while special teams coordinator Mike Prefier will walk in his (disinfectant sprayed) shoes. And he's not the only one sidelined by NFL protocols, so are five other players including Joel Bintonio. He's one of their best offensive linemen. Safety Ronnie Harrison recently revealed his status with a crying emoji on twitter. It was first thought that he was reacting to the Cleveland Indians trading short stop Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets, the tears turned out to be a reaction to his positive Covid-19 test.
Normally, here is where we start to dissect the X's and O's and who will win, but there's no need to do that. n In the two games they played this season, Pittsburgh easily won the first one 38-7. Cleveland struggled with Steelers backups but escaped with a 24-22 win last week. Those two eye tests have already revealed the Browns are in for a short stay. This has been underscored by the Browns facility being closed most of this week with the player limited to virtual meetings and very little practice. They're also on high alert that the next player or personnel test will prematurely end their season.
With all of this going on, there has been speculation as to if the game may be postponed. That is highly unlikely because the league is hell bent on staying on schedule. Remember, earlier this season, the Denver Broncos were forced to play a game with a practice squad wide receiver (Kendall Hinton) at quarterback when all the quarterbacks on their roster and practice squad were placed on the Covid-19 list. This after meeting together without masks. Unbeknownst (we think) to them, one had tested positive for the virus. Despite negative tests prior to the game, none were permitted to play.
Who knows what happens after the game this week? If there are more infections and the Steelers catch a case or two or three or four, they may win the battle, but the Browns may win the war.
OFFENSIVE players to watch: Baker Mayfield. Can he be effective with QB Coach Alex Van Pelt calling the plays? Runningbacks Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb did not play in the first game this season. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry and tight end Austin Hooper.
DEFENSIVE players to watch: Defensive end Myles Garrett. Will he stay away from Ben Roetlisberger like he did against Mason Rudolph last week?
AFC NORTH TRACKING: Baltimore plays Tennessee in the weekend's best playoff matchup. Lamar Jackson will pass the Ravens to a win.
For more on the Steelers on this site go to our Steel Talkin' page with Ty Miller 2.0 and Joel Edwards.