AFC North feud starts back today

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers and Bengals will start mixing it up just past 1 o’clock this afternoon.

The relevant question is whether football will be the No. 1 topic of conversation when this one wraps up somewhere around 4 o’clock.

The teams have a heated rivalry, and one of the key figures in that aspect is Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, No. 55 in the game program and close to being No. 1 on the NFL’s list of players fined for things they shouldn’t be doing.

Let’s make one thing clear: The Steelers aren’t angels, and never have been. Joe Greene once got thrown out of a playoff game for giving Denver lineman Paul Howard a bolo punch to the midsection.

Last December the Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster leveled Burfict with a hit that caused a concussion, then stood over Burfict, taunting the fallen player.

That plot thickened when Burfict was given a four-game suspension to start this season, citing a failed drug test. Burfict maintained he was on a prescribed medication as a result of the concussion.

So there’s plenty to watch today, and flag-happy officials will be even more diligent at the sign of anything that might be outside the rules.

They’re right to do so, and they’d be even more correct to keep an eye on No. 55 on the Bengals.

He’s always angry, but last year’s events may have put some extra fuel on his raging fire.

Smart spending

The Milwaukee Brewers, who are currently playing in the National League Championship Series, opened this season with a payroll around $90 million.

That’s about $3 million more than where the Pirates’ payroll was at the same time.

It’s also about $65 million less than the Baltimore Orioles, who lost 115 games and finished 61 games out of first place. As always, it’s not just how much you spend, it’s how you spend it.

What’s even more amazing is the Brewers have more than 18 percent of their payroll tied up in Ryan Braun, who is looking like an average player these days at age 34.

Braun had the lowest batting average and OPS of his career. The Brewers still owe him a guaranteed $36 million for two more seasons, and they’ll have to spend another $4 million to buy out a final option year.

Fans loved it when the Brewers committed long-term to their best player in 2008, and were probably just as elated when management added on another five years in 2011. Now? Maybe not so much since he hit .254 this season.

It’s not just how much you spend, it’s how you spend it.

What’s going on?

There were high school football games Friday in the WPIAL that ended with these scores:

63-20, 70-36, 52-7, 66-6, 55-7, 50-7, and 64-21.

There were shutouts where the winning team scored 42 (two games), 46 (two games), 48, 53, and 49 points.

The big one in the shutout category was a 70-0 final. Imagine that — the team that lost 53-0 can take consolation in knowing someone else had a worse night.

Blowouts happen, especially in high school, where the talent level can be wildly uneven. Having that many one-sided games in one night is mind-boggling, though.

What does it say when a 48-3 game doesn’t even make a list of outrageously lopsided outcomes?

Hard to maintain interest among fans or the athletes when things are that ridiculous.

Still waiting

Saturday was the 58th anniversary of Bill Mazeroski’s home run that won the 1960 World Series for the Pirates.

We still don’t know the exit velocity or the launch angle, but people still seemed to be pretty happy anyway.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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