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NFL Preview - Cleveland (4-11) at Pittsburgh (7-8)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Cleveland Browns are in a familiar spot this holiday season: out of the NFL playoffs themselves and hoping to play the Grinch to another team's postseason hopes.

"I hate to sound malicious, but it'd help to put them where we are, out of the playoffs," said Browns safety T.J. Ward, referring to Sunday's Week 17 opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who'd need a defeat of Cleveland and the equivalent of a football miracle to have a game next week. "We don't want to see them succeed. It'll be good, anytime you can knock somebody out of the playoffs."

The problem for Ward: The Browns have traditionally provided exactly what the Steelers have wanted over the years -- particularly when the teams have met in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have won nine consecutive home games against Cleveland, and all eight that have been started by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who's saved some of his best career play against the Browns.

He's 16-1 against them overall, having averaged just short of 10 yards (9.86) per attempt and posted a 109.1 passer rating. Meanwhile, Cleveland has started six QBs against him in the same stretch, a motley crew that's assembled a 6.02-yard average per throw and a 65.2 rating.

The next contestant comes in the form of veteran NFL'er Jason Campbell, who was removed from a Nov. 24 loss to Pittsburgh after suffering a concussion on a William Gay sack.

In that game, wide receiver Josh Gordon caught 14 balls for 237 yards -- including 71 yards from Campbell and 166 from starter-turned-backup Brandon Weeden.

That was the game that began the receiver's meteoric rise to the league's elite pass-catching targets, thanks to a run of 813 receiving yards in five games, which are 290 more than any other receiver during that timeframe.

Nearly 500 of those yards -- 479, to be exact -- have come after the catch.

Still, the Browns aren't exactly ebullient before the finale, especially considering last week's effort -- in which they blew a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter en route to a 24-13 loss to the New York Jets.

The defeat guaranteed a sixth consecutive finish with either 11 or 12 losses. Cleveland has lost double-digit games in 10 of the last seasons -- and 13 of the last 16. Its last consecutive years of single-digit losses came in 2001-02, when the team was 7-9 and 9-7 under long-since-departed head coach Butch Davis.

"We still have one more game, and I don't want to end my season like this," said defensive back Joe Haden, who's questionable with a hip injury. "I don't think anybody in this locker room would. The team that we have and the players that we have, I would never have expected it to be like this. It's got to change. This is not good enough."

Pittsburgh will take the field for the 4 p.m. start with a lot better sense of its playoff fate.

The Steelers not only need a defeat of the Browns to sneak into the postseason as a .500 sixth seed, but the continuation will also require 1 p.m. losses by both Miami (against the Jets) and Baltimore (against Cincinnati), along with a 4 p.m. by Kansas City (over San Diego).

The alignment of football planets would make Pittsburgh the second team to reach the playoffs after beginning a season with four straight losses, and the first to do so since the Chargers in 1992.

The Steelers were 5-8 after 13 games, but stayed alive with wins over the Bengals and Green Bay.

"Isn't that crazy?" defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We still are breathing and we're going to continue to fight. We've got one more that we've got to win to even have a shot and that will be our focus."

Contrary to franchise tradition, Pittsburgh is relevant this year thanks to offense, not defense. The Steelers have reached 30 points in consecutive weeks for the first time in six years and are fifth in scoring overall since Week 9 with a 29.3-point average.

That includes wins over Buffalo (23), Detroit (37), the Browns (27), Cincinnati (30) and the Packers (38), as well as losses to New England (31), the Ravens (20) and the Dolphins (28).

Roethlisberger has 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions in his last six weeks, while being sacked just once per game. In the first nine games, he was dumped 35 times.

"This team just keeps fighting," rookie Le'Veon Bell said. "We faltered a bit at the beginning of the season, but guys are really fighting, trying to get into the playoffs."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Tightened Up

Though his pass-catching teammate Gordon has gotten most of the publicity lately, tight end Jordan Cameron is quietly putting together one of the more productive aerial seasons in Browns history.

His seven touchdown catches are tied for second-most by a Cleveland tight end -- trailing only Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome -- and five catches on Sunday will allow he and Gordon to join 2007's Kellen Winslow (82) and Braylon Edwards (80) as the only Browns duo to reach 80 catches apiece in a single year. Cameron, though, is questionable with a concussion.

Rising Rookie Runner

First-year back Bell has returned from a spate of early injuries to provide precisely what the Steelers were looking for when they made him the 48th overall selection of last spring's NFL Draft out of Michigan State.

The 21-year-old enters Sunday ahead of all AFC rookies with 1,163 yards from scrimmage, which places him just 73 shy of the franchise's rookie record set by Hall of Famer Franco Harris in 1972. Bell ran for 80 yards and caught two balls for 18 more in Pittsburgh's November win over Cleveland.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Truth told, there's an excellent chance that the Steelers have squashed dreams win or lose. That shouldn't change the facts, though, which are that a hot team in front of a home crowd is facing a skidding opponent venturing into long unfriendly territory. Whether it means another game next week or not, this should be a happy finale in Steel City.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Steelers 28, Browns 17

12/27 09:23:28 ET

Other Stories

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    Today at 3:30 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: San Diego at Baltimore

    Tomorrow at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • CFB: Michigan at Ohio State

    Today at 12:00 pm on 99.9 The Fan

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  • NHL: Hurricanes vs. Pittsburgh

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  • CBB: NC State at Purdue

    Tuesday at 9:00 pm on WRAL-FM

Scoreboard
Local
Final
NCCU 65
EILL 40
Final
NCSU 60
BSU 54
Final
PIT 2
CAR 4
Final
CHA 101
GSW 106
Final
UF 64
UNC 75
Final
TULSA 32
ECU 49
 
12:30pm Today
UNC
NCSU
2:30pm Today
NARZ
NCCU
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
PIT
 
7:00pm Tonight
DUKE
WAKE
7:30pm Tonight
ATL
CHA
 
Final
BOS 102
CHI 109
Final
CHA 101
GSW 106
Final
TOR 102
DAL 106
Final
DET 88
MIL 104
 
Final
ATL 100
NOP 91
Final
HOU 85
LAC 102
Final
OKC 105
NYK 78
Final
IND 98
ORL 83
Final
SAN 112
SAC 104
Final
DEN 122
PHO 97
Final
POR 99
MEM 112
Final
LAL 119
MIN 120
 
7:00pm Tonight
PHI
DAL
 
7:00pm Tonight
WAS
NOP
 
7:30pm Tonight
ATL
CHA
 
7:30pm Tonight
CLE
IND
 
9:00pm Tonight
MIL
HOU
 
9:00pm Tonight
UTA
LAC
 
Final
WMICH 21
NILL 31
Final
SMU 9
HOU 35
Final
IOWA 34
NEB 37
Final
SFLA 0
UCF 16
Final
MARS 66
WKENT 67
Final
KSU 27
AKR 24
Final
BGU 24
BST 41
Final
UMASS 21
BUF 41
Final
EMICH 16
TOL 52
Final
MIZZ 21
ARK 14
Final
SALABAMA 40
NAVY 42
Final
ARZ 42
ARST 35
Final
AFA 27
COLST 24
Final
UCLA 10
STAN 31
Final
VT 24
UVA 20
 
Final
TULSA 32
ECU 49
 
12:00pm Today
TEMPL
CIN
12:00pm Today
UGA
GT
12:00pm Today
NW
ILL
12:00pm Today
LOU
KENT
12:00pm Today
OSU
MICH
12:00pm Today
TXSANANTO
UNT
12:00pm Today
FATL
ODU
12:00pm Today
IND
PURD
12:00pm Today
LATU
RICE
12:00pm Today
CLEM
SCAR
12:00pm Today
ISU
WVU
12:30pm Today
TROY
LALAF
12:30pm Today
UNC
NCSU
12:30pm Today
BC
SYR
1:00pm Today
COL
UTAH
2:00pm Today
APPST
IDAHO
2:00pm Today
GASTATE
TXST
3:00pm Today
ARKST
NMST
3:00pm Today
NMU
WYO
3:30pm Today
TTU
BAY
3:30pm Today
FSU
UF
3:30pm Today
PSU
MSU
3:30pm Today
WISC
MINN
3:30pm Today
MISS
MSST
3:30pm Today
USC
ND
3:30pm Today
MD
RUTG
3:30pm Today
SDST
SJST
3:30pm Today
SMISS
UAB
4:00pm Today
MEM
UCONN
4:00pm Today
KST
KU
4:00pm Today
VANDY
TENN
4:30pm Today
CAL
BYU
6:00pm Tonight
GASO
LAMON
7:00pm Tonight
FRES
HAW
7:00pm Tonight
UTEP
MTST
7:00pm Tonight
MIAMI
PITT
7:00pm Tonight
DUKE
WAKE
7:45pm Tonight
ALA
AUB
8:00pm Tonight
ORST
OREG
10:15pm Tonight
BSU
UTST
10:30pm Tonight
UNLV
NEV
10:30pm Tonight
WASU
WASH
Final
NCCU 65
EILL 40
Final
KU 82
TENN 67
Final
TEXAM 87
NO 65
 
Final
NCAT 57
RAD 65
 
Final
GEOR 58
BUT 64
Final
BRO 81
PVU 71
Final
RIU 66
SCU 44
Final
NARZ 70
SOUTH 63
Final
DART 68
MAST 67
Final
WRST 59
FIU 61
Final
XAV 73
UTEP 77
Final
OSU 73
JMU 56
Final
TXSOU 71
LAM 59
 
Final
TAMCC 75
MVSU 66
 
Final
AKAN 51
MIZST 55
Final
BUCK 80
PSU 88
 
Final
PROV 72
YALE 66
Final
UGA 62
MINN 66
Final
WISC 69
OKLA 56
Final
Terriers 70
NORST 72
 
Final
PEAY 62
STEPH 83
Final
FSU 58
CSOU 47
 
Final
VALPO 66
DRAK 46
Final
CIN 69
MTST 51
Final
SDU 75
PRIN 65
Final
WASU 76
RICE 74
Final
CSFU 64
USCU 79
Final
GT 61
RIDE 54
Final
TXPA 79
ALAST 91
Final
NCSU 60
BSU 54
Final
TCU 57
BRAD 49
Final
WAKE 65
DELST 72
 
Final
HART 83
EMERSON 50
 
Final
STJ 66
GONZ 73
Final
CLEM 62
HIGH 59
 
Final
SYR 72
HC 48
 
Final
MD 61
MON 56
Final
JVST 74
SAV 71
 
Final
MIAMI 87
SALA 75
Final
RUTG 68
VANDY 65
Final
PETE 66
TENST 58
Final
MARS 59
CLST 68
Final
JST 56
HOF 86
 
Final
INDST 62
MEM 72
Final
UF 64
UNC 75
Final
LATU 77
SAMF 64
Final
TULA 71
SELA 61
 
Final
NEB 75
TENNM 64
Final
MISS 75
CREI 68
Final
PORT 64
MURST 61
Final
MARQ 68
MSU 79
Final
ARK 89
UNT 73
Final
NCOL 82
STET 62
 
Final
IND 87
UNCG 79
Final
SJST 60
WMICH 79
Final
MNTST 104
TXARL 81
Final
UVA 64
LAS 56
Final
STLU 50
MSST 75
Final
COLST 75
PAC 64
Final
UTAH 90
NDAK 53
Final
ILL 62
BAY 54
 
Final
UAB 76
UCLA 88
2nd
WASH 62
LBSU 61
 
Half
UCSB 25
MERC 20
 
11:30am Today
NCAT
MVSU
 
12:00pm Today
KNST
CHAT
 
12:00pm Today
SOUTH
EILL
 
1:00pm Today
ND
CHIST
 
1:00pm Today
IUPUI
UGST
 
1:00pm Today
NAVY
RFLSH
 
1:00pm Today
UMBC
TOWS
 
1:00pm Today
CITA
WWLSN
 
2:00pm Today
GWEBB
BREV
 
2:00pm Today
BING
CORN
 
2:00pm Today
DAY
ILLCH
 
2:00pm Today
SFLA
JVU
 
2:00pm Today
MORE
KYCHR
 
2:00pm Today
HARV
UMASS
 
2:00pm Today
DAVID
UNCW
 
2:00pm Today
DUQ
YALE
 
2:00pm Today
NEOM
NEV
 
2:00pm Today
USB
STTHOM
 
2:00pm Today
NIAG
BONA
 
2:00pm Today
RAD
TAMCC
 
2:00pm Today
ODU
VCU
 
2:07pm Today
IOWA
LONG
 
2:30pm Today
NARZ
NCCU
 
2:30pm Today
GSOUT
SCST
 
3:00pm Today
NE
FAIR
 
3:00pm Today
OU
TOL
 
3:00pm Today
WICHS
TULSA
 
3:00pm Today
ILLST
YOUNG
 
3:30pm Today
CSFU
FIU
 
4:00pm Today
UCR
ABCHRIST
 
4:00pm Today
CLMB
AMER
 
4:00pm Today
ARKLR
CARK
 
4:00pm Today
UWMIL
CONCORDSP
 
4:00pm Today
SHU
GWU
 
4:00pm Today
HOW
GWYNEDD
 
4:00pm Today
FORD
MDES
 
4:00pm Today
GMAS
MAN
 
4:00pm Today
NWST
MOVAL
 
4:00pm Today
MICH
NICST
 
4:00pm Today
WAGN
PENN
 
4:00pm Today
AKAN
TBA
 
4:05pm Today
SILL
OLIV
 
4:15pm Today
CAN
BUF
 
4:30pm Today
PBY
BOBJONES
 
4:30pm Today
TBA
TBA
 
4:30pm Today
WMARY
WOFF
 
5:00pm Tonight
STET
FAM
 
5:30pm Tonight
SHSU
USW
 
6:00pm Tonight
CMICH
GRCN
 
6:00pm Tonight
DRAK
PORT
 
6:00pm Tonight
TBA
TBA
 
6:00pm Tonight
NDAK
TXPA
 
6:00pm Tonight
USCU
WRST
 
6:15pm Tonight
TBA
MIZST
 
6:30pm Tonight
UNLV
GTDNS
 
6:30pm Tonight
WYO
NMST
 
7:00pm Tonight
SEMIZ
ALAAM
 
7:00pm Tonight
OHIO
BEL
 
7:00pm Tonight
KSU
LOYC
 
7:00pm Tonight
GHND
SIENA
 
7:00pm Tonight
TBA
TBA
 
7:00pm Tonight
TBA
TBA
 
7:30pm Tonight
WVU
COC
 
8:00pm Tonight
HOUB
DCHR
 
8:00pm Tonight
LSU
MCNST
 
8:05pm Tonight
WILL
GVIL
 
8:05pm Tonight
UMKC
WMJEWELL
 
8:30pm Tonight
TBA
TBA
 
8:30pm Tonight
MURST
VALPO
 
9:00pm Tonight
UTAH
ALAST
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARST
COL
 
9:00pm Tonight
TBA
TBA
 
9:30pm Tonight
BYU
EKENT
 
9:30pm Tonight
TBA
TBA
 
10:00pm Tonight
SEAT
CSNO
 
10:00pm Tonight
GAELS
CPSL
 
10:00pm Tonight
IDAHO
NKENTUCKY
 
10:00pm Tonight
UCD
WLVRN
 
11:00pm Tonight
LMU
UCI
 
11:30pm Tonight
TBA
TBA
 
Final
PHI 0
NYR 3
Final
ANA 1
CHI 4
Final
WAS 5
NYI 2
Final
PIT 2
CAR 4
Final
NJD 4
DET 5
Final
BUF 2
MON 1
Final
CLB 0
VAN 5
Final
BOS 2
WIN 1
Final
FLA 3
OTT 2
Final
STL 4
EDM 3
Final
DAL 4
MIN 5
1:00pm Today
NYR
PHI
 
7:00pm Tonight
MON
BUF
 
7:00pm Tonight
NYI
NJD
 
7:00pm Tonight
TAM
OTT
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
PIT
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOR
WAS
 
8:00pm Tonight
NAS
CLB
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
STL
 
9:00pm Tonight
COL
DAL
 
10:00pm Tonight
ARI
CAL
 
10:00pm Tonight
LOS
CHI
 
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
ANA