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Browns-Steelers pregame stretch

December 28, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Cleveland Browns (5-10) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Announcers: Spero Dedes and Steve Beuerlein

Annoyance factor: This is CBS’ seventh-string (seventh!) broadcast team, but even so it’ll be nice to hear someone other than Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Dedes made his name working on L.A. Lakers TV and radio and, of course, Beuerlien made his name quarterbacking Gerry Faust into a resignation-just-ahead-of-a-pink-slip at Notre Dame.

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Weather – or not?: Mostly cloudy, low 30s. Looks like fairly decent conditions, as of now, but the real factor here is in regard to attendance, where even the slightest hint of snow, ice or wind would likely be enough to convince many ticket-holding fans to watch the game on TV.

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Referee: Walt Coleman

Competence factor: This is Walt Coleman, the dairy farmer from Arkansas, not Walt Anderson, the dentist from Texas. This is “Tuck Rule Walt,” who’s done two conference championships, but never a Super Bowl. With the two teams playing treating the game like a preseason contest, we’d imagine the officials will be in that mindset, as well, which hopefully means a scarcity of flags.

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The line: No line

Smarts say: Uncertainty about whether quarterback Brandon Weeden will play for the Browns kept this game off the board early in the week. Weeden is now listed as doubtful, but it appears that Vegas is going to wait for a final declaration of out before touching this one. And who can blame them? In a game that means nothing, there’s no guarantee how long any number of banged up veterans might go. We’ll set out own line in this one as Pittsburgh -5.

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Key matchup: Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley vs. Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron

Because: When Mike Tomlin shocked the world and hired Haley, he said one of the big reasons behind the decision was how hard it was for the Steelers to prepare for Haley’s offense in Super Bowl XLII. But it sure feels like someone has figured out how to prepare for a Haley offense this year (and now everyone else is copying that defensive plan) as there seemingly have been no running lanes or open receivers when Pittsburgh has had the ball for the past month. Even though it’s a throw-away game in a lost season, Haley needs to begin showing soon that he’ll be able to adjust.

Quick hits:

+ This is the first time the Steelers will finish a regular season at home after having been eliminated from playoff contention since Jan. 2, 2000, a 47-36 loss to Tennessee at Three Rivers Stadium that closed out a 6-10 year. On that day, 48,025 fans showed up to watch a Steelers team that featured Kordell Stewart at quarterback and team MVP Levon Kirkland at linebacker.

+ The next few weeks will bring tons of Steelers post mortems from dozens of sources, analyzing in detail what went wrong with Pittsburgh in the 2012 season. Of course, we’ll do one, too, but we’re not sure we really need to go much further than this: Pittsburgh was -14 in turnovers for the year, T29th in takeaways (16) and 6th in giveaways (30). If Forest Gump were doing football analysis, he’d say, “And that’s all I have to say about that.” Even going behind the numbers doesn’t take much digging. The low takeaways are a symptom of the team’s declining front seven and lack of pass rush. The high giveaways are somewhat of an anomaly because of the eight-turnover game at Cleveland, but what really stands out otherwise is seven lost fumbles from the wide receivers, the unit that was counted upon entering the season to provide big plays.

+ Last week, we said we thought Pittsburgh was pretty much locked in somewhere between the 18th and 20th pick in the upcoming NFL Draft because of how many bad teams there are in the NFL this year. But with a few key wins by some of those bad teams in Week 16, the sinking Steelers are rising on the draft board. Right now, Pittsburgh would pick 14th, and a Steelers loss would mean wins by any of these teams – Carolina (@NO), New York Jets (@BUF), San Diego (OAK), Tampa Bay (@ATL) – would likely +1 Pittsburgh in the draft order.

The pick: A lot of people spent this week pointing out that the Steelers played more games decided by three points or less than anyone in the league and were a handful of plays away from being 12-3 instead of 7-8. This is true, but they were also two plays away from being 5-10. We’re not a big Bill Parcells guy, but we are totally on board with his most famous contribution to football clichés: You are exactly what your record says you are. And the 2012 Steelers are exactly what 7-8 says they are: Not good enough to make plays against marginal teams. Of course, the Browns are sub-marginal and even moreso with Colt McCoy likely playing in place of Brandon Weeden. So in this season of Steelers missteps and missed opportunities, why would we think there won’t be one final mistake? Namely, winning their final game and costing themselves about five positions in the 2013 Draft …Steelers 23-13.

Last week: As the Steelers spiral to their worst year in a long time, we surge toward our best, including the taking-candy-from-a-baby-esque choice last week of the Bengals +3.5. We’re at 10-5 against the spread for the year and that’s the kind of betting track record you could feed a family on (if we had a family … or actually bet, for that matter).

Sunday coverage: We'll be traveling on Sunday to D.C. for some New Year's frolicking so it'll likely be Hillgrove, Tunch and Wolfley for us (unless we can find a sports bar in time). Prospects for a post-game blog are about 50-50 right now (which is considerably better than the Steelers' playoff chances).

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