The Steelers are now back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, facing down a long regular season that looks a lot more promising given how things have gone leading up to it. Finishing just above .500 last year, they anticipate being able to compete with any team in the league this season with second-year QB Kenny Pickett leading the way.
They’ve done a great deal to address what they identified as their shortcomings during the offseason, which included addressing the offensive and defensive lines as well as the secondary and the inside linebacker room, which is nearly entirely different from last year. The results have been positive so far.
Even well into the regular season and beyond, there are going to be plenty of questions that need answered. When will the core rookies get to play, or even start? Is the depth sufficient where they upgraded? Can they stand toe-to-toe with the Bengals and the other top teams in the league? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout the season, as we have for many years.
Question: Are the Browns finally better than the Steelers?
Were it not for a couple of miracle defensive touchdowns, the Browns would be comfortably 2-0 against the Steelers this year. And they would have achieved that without All-Pro RB Nick Chubb for about 75 percent of the way.
They even beat the Steelers yesterday not only without Chubb, but also without QB Deshaun Watson. Rookie fifth-round QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson did just enough to help Cleveland beat Pittsburgh yesterday and even the season series at 1-1.
With the split, the Browns are now 7-3 on the season and the Steelers are 6-4, squarely in third place without the head-to-head tiebreaker. They score more points, they give up fewer points. They gain more yards while gaining fewer. The big difference between the two has been the turnover margin, the Steelers with a handful more takeaways but far fewer giveaways.
Put simply, there have hardly been more than a small handful of moments this year in which the Steelers actually looked better than the Browns, in either of their games. There were the defensive touchdowns in the first game and then the long Jaylen Warren touchdown yesterday and…that was pretty much it.
Cleveland has pretty consistently looked like the better team, and now they finally have the better record, with nothing remaining for the Steelers to do about it. As a matter of fact, control of the AFC North now belongs to the Browns. If they win out, they will win the division, no matter what the Baltimore Ravens do. Period.
I genuinely don’t know if there has ever been a point in the past 25 years in which the Browns controlled their own divisional fate this far into the season before. But the reality is the Steelers now need help. They can beat the Ravens again in the finale, but they’ll need Cleveland to lose at least once more in order to get back in the divisional race.