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Browns-Steelers Preview

Browns-Steelers Preview
The AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers have nothing left to fight for in the regular season, having lost their chance to grab the conference's top seed but securing a first-round bye.

The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, are fighting with each other.

The Steelers get a final tuneup for the postseason Sunday at Heinz Field when they look for an 11th consecutive win over the Browns, who last week added an apparent altercation between teammates to a tumultuous season.

Pittsburgh (11-4) wrapped up the division title Dec. 14 with a 13-9 comeback victory in Baltimore, which also ensured it would have the wild-card weekend off to rest. Even more was on the line last Sunday in Tennessee, though, as a Steelers win would give them the inside track to the conference's top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

After winning five games in a row in come-from-behind fashion, however, Pittsburgh couldn't make it six. The Steelers erased a 10-0 deficit and took a four-point lead in the third quarter, but the Titans dominated from there, scoring the final 21 points in a 31-14 victory.

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles despite finishing with 331 yards.

"If you don't take care of the football versus good people, it comes back to bite you," coach Mike Tomlin said.

With Tennessee locking up the No. 1 seed, the Steelers will be the AFC's No. 2, meaning their first playoff game will come at Heinz Field on Jan. 10 or 11.

Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense tied an NFL record by holding the team's first 14 opponents to less than 300 yards of offense, a streak the Titans snapped with 323. Kerry Collins posted a passer rating of 102.1 in the game, making him the first to top triple digits against the Steelers this season.

"That is not the way we are used to playing defense," said linebacker James Harrison, who broke Mike Merriweather's 24-year-old team record with his 16th sack of the season. "They did a good job. They came out and imposed their will."

It looked like Harrison might not have a chance to best Merriweather's mark when he hurt his right hip in the first quarter, but returned and played the rest of the way.

With Roethlisberger continually bothered by a partially separated shoulder, and Harrison and safety Ryan Clark (shoulder) also banged up, it's unclear how much Tomlin intends to play them and his other starters against the Browns (4-11).

Whoever lines up on defense for the Steelers isn't likely to face much of a challenge from Cleveland's offense. The Browns, down to third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey after Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson suffered season-ending injuries, have gone 21 straight quarters without an offensive touchdown.

Dorsey was responsible for a touchdown Sunday in Cleveland's home finale against Cincinnati, but for the second straight week it wasn't for his own team. His first-quarter interception was returned by the Bengals' Leon Hall for a score, all the points Cincinnati would need in a 14-0 win.

Dorsey also threw a pick that was taken back 50 yards for a TD in Cleveland's 30-10 loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 15.

The Browns failed to gain 200 yards for the fourth straight game last week.

"Worst season I've ever played in," said running back Jamal Lewis, who on Sunday became the 24th player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard rushing mark.

Romeo Crennel's record as Cleveland's coach fell to 24-39, and with the Browns having had high expectations for this season following last year's 10-6 finish, his job is believed to be in jeopardy.

Making matters worse was a report that Quinn, out with a broken finger, was punched in the face by defensive end Shaun Smith following a heated verbal confrontation in the team's weight room last week.

Smith, who's been nursing a calf injury, was inactive against Cincinnati, though it's unclear whether that was due to the injury or the altercation. Crennel refused to directly address the situation.

"I never talk about family business," Crennel said. "I haven't talked about family business since I've been here. So I'm not going to address it at this point or start talking about it. If it happened, it stays in house."

Dorsey has completed 47.3 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and seven interceptions in four games this season. He suffered a rib injury and a mild concussion against the Bengals, meaning Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski may start Sunday.

Gradkowski started 11 games with Tampa Bay as a rookie in 2006 but has thrown 29 passes since.

Whichever quarterback lines up under center for Cleveland will be in for quite a challenge. The Steelers allow 244.7 yards per game, by far the fewest in the league, and are No. 1 against the pass at 189.1 ypg.

The Browns had 208 total yards and failed to get in the end zone in their first meeting with Pittsburgh, a 10-6 loss in Cleveland on Sept. 14.

Cleveland's lack of offense in that game was hardly a surprise. The Browns have failed to score more than seven points five times during their 10-game losing streak to Pittsburgh - four times in the last six meetings. The Steelers lead the series 56-55.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 24, 2008

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Dave Zastudil Name: Dave Zastudil
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