Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gameday: Cleveland Browns

Mr. Hanky's Playground
Radio: 102.5 WDVE

And so it comes to this. One game for the division title. Back to the scene of the crime where our playoff hopes died last year.

What to Watch For

1. Revenge

Last year's loss in Cleveland shattered our playoff hopes and put a black spot on the whole 2009 season. This is our chance to get that bad taste out of our mouth and take back what is ours: the AFC North Title.

2. Playoffs

The Steelers need a win to lock up the #2 seed in the playoffs and secure a first round bye. Securing the bye and winning the AFC North might be one of the most important things for the Steelers at this point in the season. A bye week would give Troy one more week to heal up and potentially get Aaron Smith back in the lineup.

3. Rashard Mendenhall

The Steelers said before this season they wanted to make more of a commitment to the running game. Through 15 games, Mendenhall has 1237 rushing yards, putting him 8th on the Steelers single-season rushing yards list. His 11 rushing TDs put him 4th. With 105 yards against Cleveland's 26th-ranked run defense, Mendenhall's 2010 season will be the 5th best single season in Steelers history. That's pretty impressive.

4. Mike Wallace

How he didn't get to go to the Pro Bowl is somewhat of a mystery. He's 6th in the league in receiving yards and tied for 10th in TDs. With a 97-yard game against Cleveland, Wallace will surpass Santonio Holmes' best season as a Steeler (1248 yds). Wallace is also 1 100-yard game short of tying the Steelers record for most 100-yard games in a season (John Stallworth, 8).

5. Win the F-ing Game

Really, that's all there is to it. The stats and individual accolades don't really mean all that much. Win the game, win the division. Period.

Behind Enemy Lines

This week's Behind Enemy Lines Guest is Steve B, also known as @pensfan1989 on Twitter. 

1. Cleveland has definitely had a season of ups and downs, from beating teams like New England and New Orleans to losing to Buffalo and Cincinnati. What have you been most impressed with from the Browns team this year?

I've been impressed mostly with how much the team improved from the 2009 season.  Last year the team struggled just to score touchdowns early in the season.  This year, the team was competitive in nearly every game before the injuries to key players like Fujita, Cribbs, and Hillis set in.  Mangini has done a very good job transforming the team from the circus it was to what it is today.  While I initially questioned trading players such as Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, their not being in the locker room has made the team stronger.

2. The Browns played spoiler to the Steelers playoff chances last year, what do you think Cleveland will have to do to keep the Steelers from winning the AFC North this week?

Cleveland will need to be able to stop the run and run the ball.  Both are very much long shots, as the team has been lit up on the ground in recent weeks and Hillis is pretty beat up from the season and may not even play.  Last year's leading rusher, Jerome Harrison, was traded to Philly earlier this year for Mike Bell, who has not been very effective when called upon.

3. Do you think Colt McCoy is the long-term answer for the Browns at QB or should they look to draft another one in April?

McCoy is largely still an unknown to me.  He has shown potential to be the long term answer but has very little experience in the NFL thus far.  He was basically forced into action this year after Delhomme and Wallace were hurt and ineffective.  The team lacks a true deep receiving and a #1 receiver, and that definitely has affected his performance.  Assuming the team can either draft one or sign one, next year should be a good year to make a judgment on McCoy.

4. By this point in the season, we're pretty familiar with Peyton Hillis and Josh Cribbs.  Are there any "lesser-known" or "under-the-radar" players you expect to have a big impact on this game?

 Joe Haden has had a very solid season in the secondary for being a rookie.  He has six interceptions so far this year and could be a shut down corner in the future.  Tight end Ben Watson has quietly had a solid year receiving.  Safety Abe Elam was on fire earlier in the year, but has cooled down somewhat.

5. Any other final thoughts?

On paper, Pittsburgh definitely has a huge talent advantage for tomorrow's game.  That said, this is the Browns' Super Bowl this year.  Mangini is fighting for his job, and word is the players like him.  Those two factors make the game interesting.  Browns fans and Steelers fans and players alike are all aware of what happened in the second game last year.  The Browns would be pumped to make the Steelers playoff run harder by knocking them down to the sixth seed (with some help from the old Browns).

Playoff Scenarios

  • New England has secured the #1 overall Seed in the playoffs

  • Pittsburgh secures the #2 Seed and AFC North title with a Win over Cleveland or a Ravens loss to Cincinnati
  • If the Steelers lose, Ravens win, and Jets lose, then the Steelers will be the #5 Seed
  • If the Steelers lose, Ravens win, and Jets win, then the Steelers will be the #6 Seed

  • Kansas City has secured the AFC West title
  • Kansas City secures the #3 Seed with a win over Oakland
  • If Kansas City loses and Indianapolis wins, Kansas City will be the #4 Seed
  • Indianapolis secures the AFC South title with a win over Tennessee or a Jacksonville loss to Houston.
  • If Indianapolis wins and Kansas City loses, Indy will be the #3 Seed.
  • If Indianapolis loses and Jacksonville wins, Indianapolis will not make the playoffs
  • Baltimore can win the AFC North and secure the #2 Seed with a win over Cincinnati and a Pittsburgh loss to Cleveland.
  • If the Steelers win or Ravens lose, the Ravens will be the #5 Seed.

  • The Jets can earn the #5 seed with a win over Buffalo and a Pittsburgh loss to Cleveland.
  • If the Jets lose or the Steelers win, the Jets will be the #6 Seed.

  • Jacksonville can win the AFC South and #4 Seed with a win over Houston and Indianapolis loss to Tennessee.
  • Jacksonville can not earn a Wild Card.
I can't think of a better way to start the New Year than seeing the Steelers beat the Browns and wrap up the AFC North Title.

Go Steelers!!!

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