Mark Madden: Steelers-Browns example of hope vs. hype
With NFL training camps fast approaching, the AFC North’s main rivalry is abundantly clear.
It’s hope vs. hype.
The Steelers hope rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush fills the hole left by Ryan Shazier when he got hurt 20 months ago. The Steelers hope losing Antonio Brown’s noise helps more than losing Brown’s talent hurts.
The Cleveland Browns, meantime, are bolstered by hype worthy of the Backstreet Boys in the ’90s. It is gratuitous. It is loud. It is nonstop, and it is annoying.
It’s fortunate in one regard: With Baltimore fading (maybe) and Cincinnati continuing to be Cincinnati, hope vs. hype jump-starts a rivalry that has been mostly dormant (and certainly lopsided) since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999.
The Steelers are 34-6-1 against the Browns since ’99.
Ben Roethlisberger has 11 wins at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium. That’s more victories than any quarterback in that facility’s history. The Browns have started 30 quarterbacks since ’99.
That history is apparently irrelevant since Odell Beckham Jr. migrated from New Jersey to Cleveland and because quarterback Baker Mayfield (aka Johnny Manziel Jr.) had a decent rookie year for Cleveland.
Sports Illustrated’s MMQB website thinks so, anyway.
Peep this headline: “Two years removed from 0-16, these Browns have no major weaknesses.”
Sure they do. They’re the Browns.
If you want to go beyond that, the Browns have a first-year head coach, a second-year quarterback, a difficult nondivision schedule and a defense that ranked third-worst in the NFL last season (but did lead the AFC in takeaways).
BTW, in that same article, it’s said left tackle Greg Robinson is a “weak link.” The author and headline writer really need to be on the same page.
Cleveland was 7-8-1 last year, 0-16 the year before.
To predict the Browns will take another significant jump up the ladder seems a media creation.
So does the MVP candidacy of Mayfield.
The QB has a booster in O.J. Simpson, who went on Twitter and touted Mayfield as a potential No. 1 pick in fantasy football. Over to you, Norm Macdonald.
Mayfield did OK as a rookie: 3,725 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a QB rating of 93.7.
Last season, Roethlisberger had 5,129 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a QB rating of 96.5.
Mayfield threw 10 TDs and 11 picks against foes with winning records. Roethlisberger threw 13 TDs and four picks.
But Mayfield is the MVP candidate, not Roethlisberger.
Mayfield is 11-1 to win MVP. Roethlisberger is 40-1.
The Browns are headed in the right direction. (They couldn’t help but.)
Mayfield is going to be better than Manziel (duh), and probably pretty good.
But being force-fed all this Browns hype is more than a bit nauseating. But hype doesn’t have to be delivered in a logical and timely fashion. In fact, it often works better when it isn’t.
Vegas has the Steelers’ over/under at 9.5 wins. Cleveland’s is 9.
Yet the national football media has the Steelers painted as underdogs in the AFC North.
That’s OK. It’s fun to see the Steelers pictured as laying in the weeds. It’s a change. The pressure is on the Browns.
ESPN’s nonstop, all-day barrage of debate often discusses the Steelers. Roethlisberger must be gaining stature in the Worldwide Leader’s eyes because they’ve gone from eviscerating him to ignoring him.
When Brown got traded to Oakland, the preceding turmoil was all Roethlisberger’s fault.
Now, looking forward, there’s no way the Steelers offense can recover from losing Brown.
One ESPN coffee klatch mostly ignored Roethlisberger while discussing the Steelers on that side of the ball. It’s like Roethlisberger is a bystander.
But Roethlisberger made Brown. Just like he made Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes, who both disappeared upon departure.
Roethlisberger is what counts most with the Steelers offense, and he always has been.
That’s why the Steelers will win the AFC North.
Colin Cowherd has been getting it right all along. See? Fox really is fair and balanced.