10 reasons the Cleveland Browns can beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in NFL playoff wild-card game

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So we’re saying there’s a chance.

Three reasons the Browns are good enough to win at Pittsburgh Sunday swiftly come to mind.

They pass the Bill Parcells test (“you are what your record says you are”) at 11-5.

They created some great moments against good teams. Notably, they charged to a 31-point halftime lead at the Tennessee Titans, who went 11-5 this season after knocking out a 14-2 Baltimore team last postseason.

In Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett, they have former No. 1 overall picks at key positions who have looked the part often enough to matter.

It doesn’t stop there. Even with head coach Kevin Stefanski out for the game after a positive COVID-19 test, the Browns boast quite a few other assets. And beyond that, they will encounter a team with issues. Lots of them.

Here are 10:

1. Bluster blowing in from Pittsburgh has the Steelers beating up the Browns now that the varsity is back.

Yet, the key men who sat out Sunday’s game at Cleveland played full shifts at Cincinnati recently. It didn’t help the Steelers avoid a 27-17 loss. The group includes Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Joe Haden.

Pittsburgh was at or close to full strength in all three of its losses in December. The Steelers not only looked beatable. They got beat.

2. To paraphrase a pet Mike Tomlin saying, Pittsburgh’s playoff glory days are so far in the rearview no one can see them. The Steelers lost at home to Jacksonville the last time they made the postseason, in 2017.

Less than two months short of his 39th birthday, with 567 career sacks weighing on his old legs, Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t just snap his fingers and win.

3. Steeler fans can chortle all they want about the Browns struggling to beat backup Mason Rudolph on Sunday.

With four minutes left against a tumbleweed of a Dallas team using ex-Brown Garrett Gilbert at QB, the Cowboys led 19-18 and had Roethlisberger pinned at his own 21 on fourth-at-10. At least, it would have been fourth-and-10 had Big Ben not been bailed out by a roughing penalty.

4. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is experienced. It might also be tired.

Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is three months older than retired Brown Joe Thomas. Pouncey, 35, and right guard David DeCastro, who turns 35 Sunday, are on borrowed time. Youth is an issue at left guard, manned by a rookie fourth-round pick, Kevin Dotson.

5. The Browns were substantial underdogs the last time they went to Pittsburgh for a playoff game.

Cleveland dominated, playing to leads of 14-0, 17-7, 24-7, 24-14 and 33-21. The Browns answered every Pittsburgh rally, including what should have been the last one. Coordinator Bruce Arians’ third-down play call got Dennis Northcutt wide open on the left side. Kelly Holcomb feathered a perfect pass.

Pittsburgh already had burned two timeouts. The Browns would have had a first down with 2 1/2 minutes left. Trailing 33-28, the Steelers were toast right up to the moment that ball slipped through Northcutt’s fingers.

6. Roethlisberger’s admittedly dangerous connection with talented young wideouts can go haywire. In the stunning loss at Cincinnati, he targeted Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster 27 times. They caught 14 passes.

7. At Buffalo last month, the Steelers led 7-0 but got outscored 26-8 the rest of the way. It was a Josh Allen thing, sure. It also was a no-running-game thing. Steeler backs James Conner, Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels combined on 17 rushes for 47 yards (2.8 average).

8. In their most recent home game, the Steelers trailed Indianapolis 21-7 at halftime and gave up a 63-yard drive to open the second half.

9. Barring an intervention by Gov. Tom Wolf, Pittsburgh’s home-field atmosphere will be limited to obnoxious, artificial, pumped-in crowd noise and 2,500 actual spectators.

Pennsylvania has been pickier than Ohio about letting people into games. The largest announced crowd at a Steelers home game in 2020 was 5,909 on Nov. 15 (Bengals).

There were no fans in the stands at the recent home finale against the Colts.

10. Losing at Cleveland sent Pittsburgh to the playoffs in a 1-4 slump.

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