The Cleveland Browns cannot make any excuses if they end up losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17.
The Cleveland Browns have one of the most straightforward paths to the playoffs in all of football: Win and they’re in.
A Week 17 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers would usually spell doom for this Cleveland franchise. The difference in 2020 is the Browns are actually good, and Mason Rudolph is starting for the Steelers. It is an obvious take, but it would be tough to accept losing in this manner to miss the playoffs.
No excuses for the Browns
The Browns suffered a disastrous defeat in Week 16 against the New York Jets. Of course, their top-four receivers and a starting linebacker all had to miss because of COVID-related reasons. Now the team is dealing with more positive tests, but the receivers are on pace to return.
It was easy to use COVID-19 as an excuse for the Jets loss. Still, Baker Mayfield looked jumpy and the Browns couldn’t run the ball with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both playing. If anything, non-COVID absences on the offensive line were the top reason for the struggles. But a loss to the tanking Jets? That is bad no matter who you’re missing.
Now it’s a matchup with Rudolph and potentially a great number of backups for Pittsburgh. Fans already know the drama that took place involving Myles Garrett the last time Rudolph was on the field for the Steelers in Cleveland.
Rudolph has only thrown four passes in 2020 and looked below-average at best as a starter in 2019. He also threw four interceptions in last year’s infamous loss to the Browns. He is not Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers are a much worse team with him starting.
Every team has had to deal with COVID this season, and the Browns are no different. This is not said to imply the Browns will struggle if key players are missing. That is a given. But on Monday, the team will have needed one win against the Jets and the Rudolph-led Steelers to make the postseason.
If the team isn’t preparing for a playoff game at that point, there will be no room for excuses.