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Steelers' Tomlin offers surprising prediction

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- EBay and the rising Cleveland Browns were among the topics that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin discussed with reporters Tuesday during a media breakfast at the NFL owners meetings.

Tomlin has a staff member check eBay to see if any old Steelers playbooks are on sale (and, of course, to purchase them if they are up for bidding).

As for the latter, Tomlin, when prodded, picked the Browns as the favorites in the AFC North for the upcoming season.

"Sure, he said, "I'll say that."

When word got around of Tomlin's prediction, reporters stopped at the table, where he held court. They asked the second-year coach if he indeed had tabbed the once woebegone Browns as the team to beat in the division.

Tomlin seemed amused by the scene -- and the fact that predictions made five months before the start of the season mean even less than preseason games.

"That's why some of this is funny to me," Tomlin said. "I understand, you guys got to sell newspapers. Have at it. Truth be known, I'm not into prognosticating who the favorite is. I could care less."

There is no denying that the Browns, who have had just two winning seasons this decade, have positioned themselves to make a run at the AFC North title that the Steelers won in 2007.

Cleveland, coming off a surprising 10-6 season, has fortified its offensive and defensive lines during free agency. The Browns provided Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson with another downfield receiving threat when they signed wideout Donte' Stallworth.

Not that Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel agreed with what Tomlin said. Same goes for Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who called the Steelers the "team to beat."

"Of course that's what Mike would say," said Crennel, who was sitting at a table close to Tomlin's during the breakfast, which was attended by AFC head coaches. "I don't begrudge him saying that. If I were in his position, I would say that also. That's why I'm telling you that (the Steelers are) the favorites and we have to catch (them). Until we can beat Pittsburgh, we won't win the division."

The Steelers have lorded over the Browns recently, having beaten them nine times in a row.

If Crennel is looking for help in the unlikeliest of places as he and the Browns try to snap that streak, he may want to check out eBay.

Tomlin talked yesterday about playbooks surfacing on the Web site when the subject of keeping gameplans a secret during the Internet age was broached. He said he heard about a Steelers playbook from a couple of years ago going up for sale on the popular Internet shopping site.

"I think it was maybe like 2004 or something," Tomlin said.

Tomlin pretty much dismissed the notion that an old playbook can be an advantage for an opposing team that gets a hold of it -- just as he did the significance of his anointing the Browns the favorite in the division.

But given the history between the Steelers and Browns, who are bitter rivals, Tomlin may have stirred more than just his coffee yesterday morning by what he said.

"You guys back us into a corner and ask us who we think is going to win a division," Tomlin said with a laugh. "If I had a crystal ball, I'd be sleeping a lot better this time of year."

Note: Troy Polamalu may not have to think about getting a haircut just yet. A proposal that would prohibit a player's hair from covering the name on the back of his jersey has been tabled, and the issue will be revisited in May when the NFL owners meet again. The league wants more input from the NFL Players Association before the proposal is voted on by the owners.

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