The Pittsburgh Steelers’ regular season has been a rollercoaster ride. After starting 11-0, they dropped their next three games. They managed to right the ship against the Indianapolis Colts, orchestrating a comeback in the second half to win 28-24. In their final game of the season, they will face their bitter division rivals, the Cleveland Browns.
A lot is riding on this game for the Browns. A win would get them in the playoffs. Not much is on the line for the Steelers, as they will end up as the two or three-seed. The AFC North rivalry and Cleveland’s playoff implications make this game a worthy watch, but the Steelers just made a decision that makes this division matchup must-watch television.
The Steelers and Browns have a violent history
It is no surprise that the AFC North has some of the fiercest and most physical division rivalries in NFL history. No matter what the teams’ records are, all four teams know the game will be injected with more intensity when they see their division rival on the schedule. The Browns and Steelers have a tense, even violent relationship, especially in recent years.
Just last season, the Browns and Steelers were involved in one of the ugliest fights in NFL history. It started when Browns’ defensive end Myles Garret tackled Steelers quarterback after throwing a pass. Rudolph seemed to take exception to the tackle as he began arguing with Garret on the ground. The climax of the scuffle was when Garrett ripped Rudolph’s helmet off his head and hit him with it on his head.
Several Pittsburgh lineman rushed to Rudolph’s defense, taking Garrett to the ground. Steelers center Mike Pouncey punched and kicked Garrett at the bottom of the pile. Garrett was ejected from the game and suspended indefinitely. He missed the Browns’ season’s final six games that year but was reinstated the following offseason.
The Steelers have owned the Browns, despite their tense relationship. The Browns have beaten Pittsburgh only three times in the past decade. Those three wins came in 2012, 2014, and 2019. The Browns lost embarrassingly to the Steelers 38-7 earlier this season. However, Cleveland has a realistic shot at winning thanks to the Steelers making this roster move.
Mason Rudolph will start for the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers won’t have Ben Roethlisberger starting against the Browns. They have named Mason Rudolph the starter against the Browns, per Adam Schefter. Rudolph played last season when Roethlisberger was out with an elbow injury. He didn’t impress when he was on the field, lacking the ability to decipher defenses and good decision making. He was in and out of the starting rotation because of his play, splitting time with Delvin Hodges.
In 2019, Rudolph threw for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions per ESPN. He hasn’t faced Myles Garrett since the brawl last season. Having the chance to eliminate Garrett and the Browns from the playoffs seems like the perfect story for Rudolph. Even though Garrett has put that notorious moment of his career behind him, there might be some extra motivation to sack the quarterback this week.
The Steelers could rest more of the starters against the Browns. They are stuck as the two or three-seed, as the Kansas City Chiefs clinched the top seed in the AFC in Week 16. In the new playoff format, only the one-seed in each conference receives a bye week. Pittsburgh is taking Week 17 to give some of their essential players rest before the playoffs.
Three AFC North teams can reach the playoffs
The AFC North has been one of the more competitive divisions in football this year. Outside of the Bengals (who were competitive with Joe Burrow), The Steelers, Ravens, and Browns have played well for most of the season. The exceptional play by these three teams makes it possible that the AFC North could have three teams in the postseason.
All three of these teams control their playoff destiny, with the Steelers already clinching a playoff berth. For the Browns, all they have to do is win against Pittsburgh. Baltimore has to beat Cincinnati, and they’ll be in the playoffs.
If either team suffers a loss, their playoff chances will be in jeopardy. It isn’t often three teams from the same division make the postseason. The last time it happened was in 2017 when the NFC South sent the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons to the playoffs.
The Mason Rudolph and Myles Garrett reunion take this matchup between the Browns and Steelers to a different level. The speculation of how Rudolph and Garrett will interact (if at all) will make this game even more interesting. This storyline could reignite fires on both sides, which will make this contest one of the best games to watch in a pivotal Week 17.