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Author: Steve Rivera
The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals share more than just the state of Ohio. They also share some truly rotten luck. The Bengals have lost their first round picks in consecutive years to injury. Now, the Browns have perhaps one-upped them and will be without their head coach for the team’s first playoff game since 2002. To add insult to injury, they will play the same team who knocked them out 17 years ago when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
All that said, Cleveland has a chance to make a statement on Sunday night, and quarterback Baker Mayfield may be just the player to right the ship.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski is out due to testing positive for COVID-19. Also testing positive is Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and receiver KhaDarel Hodge.
This should be a devastating blow for the Browns and fans in Cleveland. After climbing the mountain to the postseason in a year with unprecedented challenges, another is staring them in the face.
In year three of the Baker experience, what has been hoped for appears to be coming into fruition. He’s grown into his role on the field, and has emerged as a team leader. A far cry from the 2019 season where everything he did was viewed negative under the bright hot lights of sports media.
However, in 2020, he’s turned the corner, thanks to Stefanski, and thanks to finding some of the magic he had in his rookie season.
Against the Steelers, the last game rounding out a six pack of NFL Wild Card football this coming weekend, Mayfield has a unique opportunity. With no head coach, and players missing from their lineup due to COVID-19, Mayfield can make the kind of statement that will earn him some serious NFL credibility. The kind that not even Colin Cowherd can question.
Cleveland might also be catching a team in Pittsburgh that looks to be leveling off. The Steelers are 4-4 over there last eight games and don’t look to be the juggernaut they were heading into Week 13 when they lost to Washington 23-17. They also managed to lose to the undermanned Cincinnati Bengals 27-17 in what was a three-game losing streak.
Most simply put, Pittsburgh has sported a glass jaw that, even though at home, doesn’t make them unbeatable. The Browns will have a chip on their shoulder after getting dismissed leading up to the late game on Sunday night, and that could play into the game plan.
The Browns first playoff appearance in what must feel like a lifetime in Cleveland, could very well be a defining moment for a franchise getting off the mat. The same can be said for Baker Mayfield. Winning at Pittsburgh given a myriad of challenges could be his launching pad. Especially for a player who has shown more potential than wins.
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