The Cleveland Browns and Steelers entire game is an X-Factor
The Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated, and the Cleveland Browns are 4-1 and headed to an AFC North showdown in Pittsburgh. It’s been a long time since there has been a meaningful rivalry, though there has been no shortage of passion along the way.
Usually, by Week 6, Browns fans are anxiously scouting the college ranks for college quarterbacks that can be drafted with a high first-round draft pick. The Steelers, on the other hand, are usually concerned about making sure that they will have a home-field advantage versus the New England Patriots.
After watching a spirited Browns versus Bengals game earlier this season, this author wrote that, based mainly on the eyeball test, the AFC North could be very strong this year and that three teams could finish over .500 and that Cincinnati might actually win some games. Well, here we are in Week 6 and the division is 13-5.
This game does mean something, and maybe somebody in this division is playing decent football to win some of those 13 games. There’s still a lot of support for Kansas City, Tennessee, and New England, but it may be that the AFC North really is the deepest division in the AFC if not the entire NFL. In any case, the Steelers are back and the Browns are coming on. This is the hottest game fans have had in years.
This analyst is not saying that the Browns are better than either the Steelers or the Ravens at this point, but he is saying that the Browns are improving, Kevin Stefanski’s system is working, Andrew Berry is the right general manager, and Dee Haslam’s input is essential to the ownership function. Same old Browns? Hardly.
Now let’s talk some more about Sunday’s game between two very good teams. Three X-Factors are brought to your attention. These are factors that are not very obvious at the moment, but which might take on greater importance on Sunday.
First, is Joe Haden still Joe Haden? The deliberate loss of Joe Haden to the Steelers in 2017 was another shadow cast over the franchise. He went on to have three outstanding years for the Steelers, but is he still playing at the same level? Or is it finally time for the Browns to start targeting him?
Second, will Ray-Ray McCloud prove to be a mismatch versus the Browns’ fifth-best DB? McCloud is the No. 5 wide receiver, but the Browns are very thin right now and may have trouble finding five healthy defensive backs.
Third, can current Brown and former Steeler Chris Hubbard glue together the offensive line? The OL is the strength of the team and has been damaged by the loss of The Pancake Man, Wyatt Teller. Teller has been the most improved Cleveland Brown this season, but Chris Hubbard has also been greatly improved. Can he hold it together for the fab five?