Following another brutal loss last Sunday to the Raiders, the playoffs have no officially begun for the Steelers. One more loss and it would take a near miracle for them to get an AFC Wild Card berth. This week the Steelers must play the Browns in Cleveland on a nasty Winter night that includes swirling winds and snow. This game will also serve as the Super Bowl for Cleveland. The Browns would love to be the ones to put a final nail in the coffin of the Steelers, it is all they are playing for now.
The Steelers will in all likelihood be without Hines Ward, who is suffering from a hamstring strain. The offense will look to run Rashard Mendenhall all night on a Browns defense that has been decimated by injuries. Mendenhall needs just 113 yards for 1000 on the season as well. Limas Sweed and Mike Wallace will both be used to help fill the shoes of Ward if he is indeed sidelined. Santonio Holmes will have the advantage on the Browns secondary in the bad weather and despite double coverage, should be able to find some open field in the middle. Also look for tight end Heath Miller to contribute on third downs as well.
The defense will once again be without strong safety Troy Polamalu and could be without struggling cornerback William Gay as well. Gay is recovering from a concussion, so rookie Joe Burnett could get the start and at the very least, some playing time on situational passing downs. The Browns will look to throw at Burnett when he is in the game and Burnett must be up for the challenge. The Steelers have yet to record an interception by a cornerback this season. Tonight would be a great time to start. Linebacker James Harrison will have his hands full with Joe Thomas, so the Steelers will rely heavily on the play of the inside linebackers to bottle up the Browns running game.
The biggest threat will be to the special teams in the form of return man Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the earlier meeting this year and must not be allowed to duplicate that effort. Any huge special teams play in this game could be the deciding factor.
There really is not much more to say about a game that will likely be low scoring and dependent on field position and turnovers. The way the Steelers defense has played late in games, no lead is safe, even in snowy Cleveland against the one win Browns. This is a must win game against another bad team that the Steelers should beat, this time I think they finally get it done and the long rest will do the Steelers good before going back home to host the Green Bay Packers.
Prediction: Steelers: 20 Browns 10