Steelers point/counterpoint: Showdown with Browns
Steelers columnist John Harris and beat writer Scott Brown trade insight and the occasional insult as they discuss the Steelers throughout the season. Next for the Steelers after a 38-7 win over the Ravens is a showdown with the Browns for first place in the AFC North.
Harris: Using the Cleveland Browns and the playoffs in the same sentence doesn't feel right, like indegestion. So pass the Mylanta and give me the Steelers over the Brownies, 28-10, in a so-called battle for first place in the division.
Brown: I'll pass along this advice instead: lay off the hot dogs at halftime of Steeler games. Meanwhile, I was kind enough to overnight mail a month's worth of Mylanta to the Ravens' complex in Baltimore. I'm guessing Brian Billick is still feeling a little sick to his stomach after watching what the Steelers did to his team.
The Steelers have been so dominant at home that I don't give the Browns much of a chance to win Sunday. But the Steelers haven't faced a passing attack as good as Cleveland's so if Derek Anderson is indeed for real I suppose the Browns could spring an upset and move into a tie for first place in the AFC North.
Harris: Scott, the only hot dog I'm familiar with is you attempting to get the upper hand in these weekly debates. You're starting to believe your own hype, sort of like Ray Lewis' locker room meltdown after the Steelers rolled over the Ravens.
As for the Browns, I don't give them much of a chance to win Sunday at Heinz Field. Or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday, for that matter. The Browns are a nice story this season, but they're not ready for prime time. Just because they've learned how to crawl doesn't mean they know how to walk.
Brown: Meltdown• Ray Lewis seemed unusually cheery after the Steelers drilled the Ravens. Maybe he's resigned to the reality that Baltimore's defense is no longer good enough to carry the albatross that has long been the Ravens' offense.
With Cincinnati a mess that leaves Cleveland, to me, as the biggest threat to the Steelers in the division. I agree that the Browns, while a good story, are not much of a threat at all even if they happen to win Sunday. Does that mean we should start looking at the bigger picture, such as whether the Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders• We should get Mike Tomlin to weigh in on that, eh?
Harris: You mean you missed Ray-Ray's post-game rant• He can't wait to play the Steelers again on Dec. 30, since Willie Parker rushed for only 42 yards on 23 carries. Of course, Ben Roethlisberger torched the Ravens for five touchdowns passes but who's counting• Obviously, not Ray-Ray.
It would be easier winning the lottery than getting Mike Tomlin to weigh in on the Steelers' Super Bowl chances. He's playing it so close to the vest it's difficult for him to breathe. Tomlin isn't living from day-to-day. He's living yard-to-yard.
Brown: Heck, yard-to-yard may be a stretch. Not that I blame Tomlin, but that doesn't mean we can't look ahead. So let's talk about the teams that have, as Tomlin would say, plenty of "been-there, done-that guys," the Colts and Patriots.
Each looked vincible in the game that was ridiculously hyped as Super Bowl XLII 1/2. Are the Steelers in their class• I'm not ready to say that until they show they can play better on the road. And the way the season is shaping up the Steelers will have to beat at least one of those two teams away from Heinz Field in the playoffs. Not to get ahead or myself or anything.
Harris: The Steelers aren't in that class. They're good, but we're still waiting to see what happens when they play a really good team. The Steelers have no control over who they play, so it's unfair to judge their schedule too harshly. All I know is the Patriots and Colts won't give the Steelers five great first-half scoring opportunities, as the Ravens did.
I tried imagining the Steelers against the Patriots and Colts, and I see them needing to play a perfect game to beat either team. Right now, the Steelers are the third-best team in the AFC. If they were in the NFC, they'd be the best team, hands-down.
Brown: Agreed on all points (I can't believe I just said that). I think the Steelers are still a distant third in the AFC to the Patriots and Colts. I could see them summoning up the performance they did against the supposedly unbeatable Colts in the playoffs two seasons ago once but I can't see them doing it twice.
As things stand right now, that's what they will have to do get to the Super Bowl unless there is a major upset in the playoffs. Is the AFC North that bad that we're already plotting the Steelers' playoff course?
Harris: How bad is bad? Brown: The Cleveland Browns are playing for a share of first place after the clocks have been turned back. Yikes.