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Kevin Gorman

Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Five thoughts on today's sports news

| Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, 11:36 a.m.
Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward signals to the fans as he leaves the field after beating the Texans, 34-6, on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward signals to the fans as he leaves the field after beating the Texans, 34-6, on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, at NRG Stadium in Houston.

1. The Steelers have secured the AFC North division title and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, and their only hope of clinching home-field advantage rests with the New England Patriots (12-3) losing to the New York Jets (5-10) in the season finale.

The Steelers (12-3) could rest starters in Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward when they play host to the winless Cleveland Browns Sunday at Heinz field, just like they did last year.

Difference is, the Steelers couldn't improve their No. 3 seeding last year. This year, the Steelers could clinch the top seed with a win over the Browns coupled with a Patriots loss to the Jets.

And if that sounds unrealistic, consider that the 12-3 Patriots lost to the 5-10 Miami Dolphins in the finale in 2015, which cost them the top seed. It went to the Denver Broncos, who beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game.

The Steelers are smart to protect key players from injuries and should be able to beat the Browns, even without them. But there's a risk-reward gamble Mike Tomlin is taking, and it could backfire on the Steelers coach if the Jets and Browns both pull upsets.

2. For the second consecutive season, the Steelers' second-round pick has edged out their first-rounder in a Pittsburgh media vote for the Joe Greene Great Performance Award as rookie of the year.

No surprise that JuJu Smith-Schuster won, though, with sympathies to T.J. Watt. JuJu got my vote, not just for his statistics but his blocking. The Detroit game was the deciding factor for me.

Smith-Schuster, by the way, is one catch from becoming only the second rookie in Steelers history to have 50 receptions.

The first, believe it or not, was Troy Edwards, who had 61 in 1999.

Also, right guard David DeCastro won the Chief Award for his cooperation with the media. It's well deserved, as DeCastro is not only approachable but gives thoughtful, insightful answers to questions on just about any topic.

My vote, however, went to free safety Mike Mitchell. He's not as cooperative as DeCastro, especially when cameras are involved, but has a refreshing candor. He's a good follow on Twitter, and his epic sound-off about the NFL and player safety was pure gold.

3. Speaking of the Steelers, the Trib produced videos showcasing some of their most die-hard fans .

The story of the Steelers friendship that transcends life and death, by Shane Dunlap, is an emotional journey that is worth watching.

4. The Penguins' shootout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets was their best performance and could be the turning point of their season. Trib columnist Tim Benz writes that the Penguins must seize that momentum or face consequences .

Problem is, so many Penguins players are injured right now that it's tough to get going. They are without their starting goalie, two top-four defensemen and one of their better wingers.

And, as much as the James Harrison story has been difficult for Steelers fans to swallow, the sad truth is that the Penguins are probably going to have to part with one of their most popular players if they want to salvage this season.

It's just a matter of who they will trade.

5. On a lighter note, Pittsburgh Dad deserves props for his one-liners in the reaction to James Harrison signing with the Patriots .

This one was a classic: “Am I afraid he's going to give the Patriots the secrets how to beat us? Well, here's the secret: Just throw it to Gronkowski every time. Eh, it's a big secret.”

File that under the lines I wish I'd written.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribuen-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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