The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are long shots that need a multitude of things to go right if they are to crack the AFC playoff field.
By the time the two AFC North rivals meet on Monday night in Pittsburgh, it will be an elimination game with the loser surely out of the mix and the winner facing slim odds to land one of the conference’s seven playoff spots.
The Steelers (7-7-1) enter the weekend with the 11th-best record in the AFC, while the Browns (7-8) hold the 12th position. In the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) are in the lead and the Baltimore Ravens (8-7) hold second place.
Making the situation dire is that six AFC teams already have at least nine victories and four others possess eight wins.
Adding to the atmosphere is the possibility that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be starting the final home game of his career.
The two-time Super Bowl champion is in the homestretch of his 18th season and can feel the clock ticking on his time in Pittsburgh.
“Looking at the bigger picture, I would say that all signs are pointing to this could be it,” the 39-year-old veteran said Thursday. “Regular season, that is — I know we still have a chance to potentially get a playoff game there if things fall our way and we take care of business and things have to happen.”
Roethlisberger ranks fifth in NFL history with 63,721 passing yards and eighth with 416 passing touchdowns. This season, he has passed for 3,373 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
With the crucial game looming, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who arrived in 2007, wasn’t ready to take a full trip down memory lane.
“To be honest with you, we don’t have enough time,” Tomlin said. “I mean, I’ve experienced 15 years of Hall of Fame-caliber play as it pertains to Ben. My focus and his focus this week is this game and preparing for this game and performing well in this game.
“I’m sure there will be an appropriate time in the future where I’ll get an opportunity to sing his praises, and I will gladly do so.”
Tomlin’s attention is on getting the Steelers out of a funk that has seen them go 2-4-1 over the past seven games. The Browns can relate, as they have dropped two straight contests and three of their past four.
Each of Cleveland’s last two defeats was by two points — to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 15 and to Green Bay Packers last week.
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett (career-best 15 sacks) is highly aggravated over his team’s plight.
“If you’re a Browns fan, you’re frustrated,” Garrett said. “If you’re a Browns player, you’re frustrated. If you have anything to do with us, you know that. We’ve had chances, we just haven’t converted or capitalized. I can’t tell you how frustrated we are or I am.”
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield has come under fire for a subpar season in which he has 15 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions. Mayfield was picked off four times in the loss at Green Bay, and his wife, Emily, said her husband received death threats after the contest.
Baker Mayfield also has been booed at home for the first time in his four-year NFL career.
“There have been a lot of firsts for me this year, but that comes with the territory of the position that I’m in,” Mayfield said on Thursday. “I have to handle it the best I possibly can.”
Mayfield passed for 225 yards in a 15-10 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 31, when Pittsburgh scored the final 12 points. Roethlisberger passed for 266 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
Cleveland activated four players from the COVID-19 protocol on Thursday, including center JC Tretter. Garrett (groin) was a limited practice participant while running back Kareem Hunt (ankle) was among the Browns who sat out.
For Pittsburgh, tight end Pat Freiermuth (concussion) was a full practice participant Thursday, but defensive end Chris Wormley (groin) missed the session. Both players sat out last week’s 36-10 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
–Field Level Media