What To Watch For
1. AFC North-mageddon
When the folks made the NFL schedule over the summer, they couldn't have hoped for a better scenario heading into Week 17. Steelers-Browns and Ravens-Bengals with the division title and a wild card spot on the line. The Ravens have the inside track on the division crown, and will get to give John Harbaugh another gatorade bath if they beat the Bengals. The Bengals can still sneak into the playoffs if the Ravens beat them, but they need a bunch of other teams to lose. For the Steelers, it's straight-forward. Our playoff spot is locked up. We have to beat the Browns to have any chance at the division title. With a win over the Browns and a loss by Baltimore, we will win the division and get a first round bye. If both Baltimore and New England lose, we will have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. 2010 not 2009
Last year, we went into Cleveland and kicked the living snot out of them. The Steelers need this game to follow the track of their 2010 trip to the worst city in the country rather than the 2009 version. The Browns are a pesky team that has hung around with almost everyone they've played this year. The Steelers need to get up big early and keep their foot on the gas. Don't let the Browns hang around.
3. 5 for Hines
Hines is 5 catches away from 1,000 career receptions. As I mentioned in my game recap last week, the Steelers are 8-1 in games where Hines has more than 2 receptions. Let's get it done for Hines.
4. Keep Ben Safe
Ben is expected to start and the patchwork offensive line, which will likely feature Trai Essex somewhere (center or guard) and possibly Chris Kemoeatu if Essex has to play center, must keep Ben safe and not give Cleveland the opportunity to knock him out of the game. This point includes the coaching staff, which needs to realize that Ben is not as mobile as he normally is so they will have to adjust the playbook by giving him extra blockers and utilizing shorter passes where Ben can get the ball out quick.
5. Seneca Wallace
Wallace will start in place of the still-concussed Colt McCoy. He has never started a game against the Steelers but has appeared on 3 occasions, throwing a grand total of 5 passes. He has completed 3 of those for a total of 20 yards and no touchdowns. Obviously, the Browns will lean heavily on their rushing attack so the Steelers will need to be sound up front. But if they can get pressure on Wallace and force some bad throws and turnovers, this game could get out of hand quickly.
By 7:30pm tomorrow, the Steelers could be anywhere from the top seed in the AFC to the #5 seed. Here we go.
Hope everyone out there had a great 2011. Looking forward to an even better 2012. Happy New Year everyone!