CLEVELAND, OH – With hope and optimism growing that the NFL will played this coming fall, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Cleveland Browns may have a chance to end their NFL-record playoff drought at the expense of their long-time bitter rivals from the Steel City.
ESPN released their Football Power Index (FPI) on Monday, and according to their projections, the Cleveland Browns (6-10) are favored to claim the AFC’s first ever seventh seed ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8), as stated on ESPN.com.
“Speaking of those new seventh seeds, who does FPI predict they will be in 2020? No team is more likely to earn a No. 7 seed than the Cleveland Browns, who hold a 10% chance that they land precisely in that slot. The Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams — all also in the 10% chance range — are in close succession after Cleveland. One-third of the time in our simulations, the seventh seed came from a division with another wild-card team.”
While it is foolhardy to buy into computer analytics in May before the 2020-21 season hopefully gets started, thanks to their free-agent signings such as OT Jack Conklin, TE Austin Cooper and DE Adrian Clayborn and a solid draft headlined by OT Jedrick Wills Jr, S Grant Delpit and DL Jordan Elliott. Cleveland looks primed to finally take the next step in becoming a playoff contender under new-new head coach Kevin Stefanski.
If reports are true that third-year QB Baker Mayfield is picking up Stefanski’s tight-end friendly, run-heavy, play-action based system quickly—as well as deciding to let his play on the field do all the talking—then the former Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma is going to have a borderline-NFL MVP type of year.
Down on the Confluence, the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers finally get two-time Super Bowl champion QB Ben Roethlisberger back from an elbow injury, a compliment to starters Juju Smith-Schuster and James Washington in former 6’4, 238-pound Canadian-born Notre Dame wideout Chase Claypool to form a deadly three-WR triumvirate along with second-year former Toledo speedster, Diontae Johnson. Pittsburgh also enters the season with the potential distraction of contact holdout with former Pitt standout, James Conner on a potential new deal.
On defense, Pittsburgh has TWO potential NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates in DE T.J. Watt and DB Minkah Fitzpatrick leading an always-aggressive unit that fifth in yards allowed, sixth in points allowed, first in takeaways and tied for first in yards allowed per play. The Steelers could possibly have the NFL’s best defense thanks to Watt and Bud Dupree in addition to veterans such as Joe Haden, Cameron Hayward, Terrell Edmunds and Stephon Tuitt.
If last season is an indication between these two long-time rivals is any indication, then the Browns-Steelers once one-sided rivalry just entered a new and exciting chapter.