The Pittsburgh Steelers game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns will be the 2012 season finale and perhaps look and feel like a preseason game from back in August, except only in cold weather. There are so many potential line up changes in the game today, and so many different players that might see the field that it is hard to really zero in on certain keys. We will give it ago just the same so below are 7 things to watch for specifically in this game along with my prediction at the end of it.
Slump Buster - The 175 consecutive game streak for Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown will come to an end on Sunday so that means Buster Skrine is expected to start opposite Joe Haden. Haden is one of the top young cornerbacks in the game so expect the Steelers offense to go after Skrine early and often. With Brown out that also means that rookie Trevin Wade will likely see time in the Browns sub-package and he is another prime candidate to be picked on in the slot. A big day for Emmanuel Sanders could be on tap.
Lewis Under Pressure - With quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy both sidelined by injuries the Browns will start third-stringer Thaddeus Lewis against the Steelers. Keeping Lewis in the pocket and under pressure is the main focus in this game and there is no way that he can be prepared for what he is about to have thrown his way from Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in this game. The mere illusion of pressure disguised properly should lead to several mistakes by the young quarterback and that includes several forced throws.
David Back On The Horse - Rookie David DeCastro had a rough go of it last week against the Cincinnati Bengals but not all was bad in that game for him. He had some nice pulls in that game and did trooper through with a bad hamstring against one of the best defensive tackles in the game. Against the Browns he will have a chance to redeem himself against Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor.
Short Middle - The Browns are ranked last in the league at allowing pass completions (78.45%) in the short middle area of the field. Those completions resulted in a 8.07 yards per completion which ranks them 26th overall in the league. Sunday will be a perfect opportunity for the Steelers to get things right with their short passing game as a result of this and gain back confidence in the offense heading into the offseason.
Kids For A Day? - Youngsters Steve McLendon, Cameron Heyward, Cortez Allen, Josh Victorian and David Paulson all stand to see extended playing time on Sunday and all must show that they are ready for larger roles in 2013. The Browns are a banged up bunch and these players all need good showings in this game.
Empty Out The Playbook - Sunday will be a great opportunity to try a few different things on offense so expect to see more use of the running backs perhaps in the passing game and a trick play or two.
Here\'s To Good Health - The biggest key in this game is to get to the offseason without any more serious injuries. Losing Heath Miller last week was crushing enough.
Prediction - All of you that want to lose this game for a better draft pick are fools and I can only hope that one day I get to punch each and every one of you in the face. Losing is for losers and there has been enough of that already this season. This could be the last game in a Steelers uniform for several players such as James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Max Starks and Charlie Batch to name a few and they all deserve to go out winners if indeed that winds up being the case. Some guy named Thaddeus is not going to beat LeBeau today even if the Steelers offense fumbles 10 times in this game.
Final Score - Steelers 51 Browns 0