It’ll be hard to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final game of 2013 and not imagine what might have been.
Where would the Steelers be without the fourth-quarter turkey day slide in Baltimore, and even more devastating, the snowy home loss to Miami just four weeks ago. Had the Steelers held on to win in either of those games, they wouldn’t need to enlist Chargers, Ravens and Dolphins voodoo dolls this Sunday.
Of course, none of this matters if they cannot win against the Cleveland Browns. Last week, the Browns appeared to pack in the season a bit early with an embarrassing 24-13 loss to the New York Jets.
As it stands just 24 hours prior to game time, the Browns will be limping into Pittsburgh. They will likely be without their Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden, defensive lineman Phil Taylor, starting tackle Jason Pinkston and at least one of their starting guards. With the Steelers probably just playing for pride, this game may be more about the individual stories playing out rather than the game winner.
The AFC North features not one but two former Michigan State running backs. Steelers rookie of the year Le’Veon Bell will try to end the season on a three-game 100-yard rushing streak. The Browns’ running game has recently been led by Edwin Baker, the back who preceded Bell at Michigan State.
Baker was drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 draft by the now Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. At 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, Baker had a touchdown and 64 yards against the Jets, who have one of the NFL’s best rushing defenses. Bell only managed 34 yards in his matchup vs. the Jets back in Week 6.
PRO BOWL RECEIVER SPECIAL FEATURE
When these teams met up in Week 12, the battle between Antonio Brown and Haden was as good as advertised. Brown led the Steelers with 92 yards on six catches, including a 41-yard TD. With Haden likely sitting out with an injury, the competition heats up between Brown and Josh Gordon, who are both in contention for the receiving title.
Gordon has a comfortable 152-yard lead even though he was suspended the first two games. Add in the quarterback carousel the Browns have had and Gordon’s season is even more remarkable. In the previous matchup with the Steelers, he caught 14 of the 17 balls thrown to him, crushing the Steelers for 237 yards and a TD. It was one of Pittsburgh corner Ike Taylor’s worst performances.
QB PROBOWL SNUB
So Ben Roethlisberger has perhaps his best season as a pro, behind a line decimated by injuries, an incredible 63.2 percent completion rate while calling his own plays, fewer interceptions than two of the QBs named to the Pro Bowl, but he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl?
Seems he still is not too popular amongst the fan votes. He was beaten out by Cam Newton, Philiip Rivers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Only Manning deserved a Pro Bowl nod before Roethlisberger. The Browns, a team that coulda/shoulda drafted Big Ben, may be used on Sunday to demonstrate what a great season the Steelers (and Pro Bowl voters) wasted.
2014 DRAFT PREVIEW
Injuries to Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones and Emmanuel Sanders pressed little-used backups on to the field last Sunday. Jones should be back but both Worilds and Sanders are listed as questionable. Sanders will likely be replaced by rookie Marcus Wheaton and veteran Jerricho Cotchery, both of whom get a shot to push the Steelers’ 2014 receiver draft needs out of the first or second round.
PREDICTION: Steelers get the win in their final game, 34-13.