Oh boy, that start to Pittsburgh’s 2023-24 campaign was brutal. To those who missed it, don’t beat yourselves up, as the Steelers were completely out of their element in the 30-7 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Now, whenever a loss leaves fans as distraught as this one has left Steeler Nation, their first thought almost always revolves around what the loss means going forward—I practiced this rule on Sunday when my mind got tripped up on exactly that during the humiliation.
Simply put, I found myself running back through Pittsburgh’s schedule to look at upcoming games that could hopefully serve as opportunities for the Steelers to claw back from the depths of mediocrity. Upon doing so, I actually managed to find comfort in their very next opponents: The Cleveland Browns.
Anyone who remembers how last season ended for the Browns should know why I let out a sigh of relief at the sight of them. They finished last place in the AFC North standings as what was visibly the weakest of the division’s four teams.
Not only that, but they also fell to Pittsburgh in Week 17 to cap off its late tear of wins, showing that the Steelers had what it took to beat them in what was just replaced as their freshest regular-season display.
Historically inferior (obviously), recently inferior, currently inferior, and the Steelers get to host them? Nothing could go wrong with a combination like that, right? Right—unless one of those factors isn’t true.
While Pittsburgh laid an egg in their opener, Cleveland essentially did the exact opposite. Instead of falling to an NFC contender by 23, the Browns decimated an AFC contender, the Cincinnati Bengals, by 21 (24-3).
With that said, what about Cleveland implies that it is “currently inferior” to Pittsburgh in even the slightest capacity? Well, maybe it’s the fact that a convincing Browns win over Cincy is nothing we haven’t seen before.
Cleveland beating Cincinnati isn’t as stunning as some might think
To those who either don’t know or forgot, the Browns are no strangers to putting the Bengals in their place. In the past three seasons alone, Cleveland has a 5-1 record against them, with one of those wins being decided by 19 and another by 25.
Now for the kicker: The 19-point victory was obtained last year (when the Browns were, as previously established, last in the AFC North), and the 25-point one was obtained the year prior (when Cincy went to—and almost won—Super Bowl LVI).
The takeaway from these little tales is that Cleveland doesn’t have to be good—nor does Cincinnati have to be bad—for installments of the Ohioan rivalry to go the former’s way. So, why should we expect this most recent result to mean anything more than the others?
Once we refuse to do so and remove that concern from the equation, we’re left with the other three factors we listed, all of which we know to be true: Cleveland being historically inferior, recently inferior, and having to go on the road. Not too bad of circumstances for a Steelers team that couldn’t even come within striking distance of its opening opponents.
I’ll admit that me simply stating “Pittsburgh can beat Cleveland” falls heavily on wishful thinking, but one cannot dispute how comfortable the scenario looks for Steelers fans (relatively speaking).
If the Steelers prevail, yinzers can confidently say their guys got a much-needed rivalry win and hope they can find a rhythm with it. If they lose, the chances that we’re staring down a long season will skyrocket. But look at it this way, at least the game feels slightly more important than the all-too-familiar battle for basic bragging rights.