NFL 2019 (Week 11): Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

Russell S. Baxter

NFL 2019 (Week 11): Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

By Jesse Pierson

Special to Pro Football Guru

After a disappointing first half of the season, both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns appear to be picking up much-needed momentum. Pittsburgh’s 0-3 start seems far in the rearview mirror now, as a 5-1 surge has vaulted the team into the AFC’s sixth seed if the playoffs were to start today. Cleveland has a higher mountain to climb, but they picked up a win over 6-2 Buffalo last week and are entering a manageable stretch of the schedule that could get them back into the mix. Baltimore is probably out of reach--at least for the Browns--but this game is significantly more important than it appeared to be a month ago. These two teams will have a rematch in Pittsburgh in just over two weeks, so what will the first act have in store for us?

Steelers: Pittsburgh is one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, perhaps second only to division-leading Baltimore. The Steelers’ lone loss in the last six games was to Baltimore, and the teams won’t meet again until the regular season finale. That game is in Baltimore, so any ground the Steelers can cover before then is surely to their benefit. As for the present, this midseason resurgence is due in large part to Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt. Watt has at least a half-sack in each of the last six games, and Fitzpatrick is playing like a man possessed after Miami agreed to trade him away. In seven games with his new team, the former first-round pick from Alabama has deflected eight passes and picked off five more (including a 96-yard touchdown return against Indianapolis two weeks ago). Such defensive tenacity has allowed the offense to find its rhythm while working through several key injuries. Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger has missed almost all season, but Mason Rudolph missed some time, as well as running backs James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell. Most starters are healthy now, which could pay dividends in their continued push for a playoff spot.

Browns: Most seasons, Cleveland sporting a 3-6 record would barely raise an eyebrow. But these 2019 Browns were supposed to be different. Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Myles Garrett, and Denzel Ward were anointed as the offseason saviors for this downtrodden franchise. And while three of their six losses were by a single score, blowout losses to Tennessee, San Francisco, and New England have cast a pall on the optimistic fan base. On top of the two Steelers games, though, Cleveland plays only one other team with a winning record in the next six weeks: Baltimore. Miami, Cincinnati twice, and Arizona are all winnable, and an upset or two against Pittsburgh and/or Baltimore changes the complexion of this disappointing campaign. In order to win those games, the unsteady offensive line will need to jell so that Mayfield and his myriad weapons can do what we all expected them to. The entire team will also need to cut down on penalties, as they are currently third worst in the league with 79 having been called against them, resulting in 701 yards they can’t get back. Yikes.

Prediction: Cleveland plays a clean, exciting game for their home fans, but Pittsburgh’s train keeps rolling.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30, Cleveland Browns 23

Jesse Pierson (@jessetpierson) is a former teacher and high school football coach who has written about the Colts for over a decade. He loves football, dogs, food, and comedy, and you can follow his work on his Facebook page, Jesse Pierson, Mediocre Writer.

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