F. Dale Lolley Column
Rivalry runs deep between Steelers, Browns
There have been few series in the NFL as lopsided as the one between Pittsburgh and Cleveland since the Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999.
The Steelers have won 23 of the 27 meetings in that time period, dominating the Browns in impressive fashion.
Last season, however, the Steelers outscored the Browns by a combined 27-12 score, as Cleveland limited Pittsburgh to 14 and 13 points.
And those games came with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Roethlisberger will be on the sideline today as he continues to recover from shoulder and rib injuries suffered two weeks ago in a win over Kansas City. No. 2 quarterback Byron Leftwich is also sidelined after suffering a rib injury in a loss to Baltimore last week.
That leaves the Steelers with Charlie Batch, who turns 38 next week, running the show.
That is not necessarily a bad thing.
Though he certainly does not have the same arm strength he did when he broke into the league with Detroit in 1998, Batch gets rid of the ball quickly – much more so than Leftwich.
Working against a Cleveland defense that has 27 sacks – including seven last week in an overtime loss at Dallas – Batch’s ability to make quick decisions could be a major positive for the Steelers.
But Roethlisberger isn’t the only star sidelined for the banged up Steelers. Safety Troy Polamalu has been limited to two games with a torn muscle in his calf, while wide receiver Antonio Brown is questionable to miss his third game with an ankle sprain.
In fact, the Steelers were so thin at wide receiver after losing Jerricho Cotchery to fractured ribs last week, that they felt the need to sign 35-year-old Plaxico Burress.
At 6-4 and fighting just to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture, the Steelers are desperate for any kind of boost.
That desperation should show through today.
The Steelers are a 1-point favorite to beat the Browns and will get just enough from an improving running game, the NFL’s top-rated defense and Batch to get the win.
Take the Steelers, 16-13
Carson Palmer makes his return to Cincinnati after forcing a trade last year.
Take Oakland to cover in a 30-24 loss
The Cardinals are a mess at the quarterback position.
Take St. Louis, 24-16
Aaron Rodgers against a very suspect secondary. The Giants have covered the spread less than 40 percent of the time at home since 1999.
Take Green Bay, 31-27
Tampa Bay should have Atlanta’s full attention.
Take Atlanta, 24-20
Ravens beat the Steelers twice in 2011 and lost the next week both times. This is also their third-straight road game.
Take San Diego, 23-20
The loss of Willis McGahee hurts the Broncos, but not enough to lose here.
Take Denver, 27-10
The Seahawks have covered in just 36 percent of their road games since 2002, but road favorites coming off a bye are 26-4 in the last 30 games.
Take Seattle, 23-17
This is a game Indianapolis has to have.
Take Indianapolis, 27-20
The road team in Jacksonville games has covered in all 10 games this season.
Take Tennessee, 24-17
Chicago’s offensive line has to play better at home, right?
Take Minnesota to cover in a 20-16 loss
The Saints are allowing 50 more yards per game than any team in the past decade.
Take San Francisco, 24-20
The Eagles are playing a rookie quarterback and have covered in just three of their last 16 home games.
Take Carolina, 21-10
Last Week: 6-7 ATS; 11-2 Straight up
Overall: 68-74-5 ATS; 90-57 Straight up
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at email@example.com.