The regular season is finally here.
After months and months of talk, the season opener has arrived as the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers will open the 2017 season on Sunday afternoon.
It may not seem like a rivalry anymore due in large part to the Steelers dominating the Browns in the series since 1999 but with Cleveland and Pittsburgh only separated by 133 miles and because the fan bases still hate each other, it still seems like a rivalry.
For the Steelers, this could be the final season for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger so the franchise is thinking one more Super Bowl fun. He’s got plenty of weapons like running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown to get that done on offense.
Their defense is still very young and it’s nothing like they were ten years ago.
Their secondary is unproven so Pittsburgh added former Browns cornerback Joe Haden to try and solidify that group.
Veteran James Harrison has been a thorn in the Browns side for the last 13 years and is still hanging around at 38 years old.
In 22 career games against the Browns, he has 52 tackles and 6.5 sacks including some major hits that knocked out former Browns Josh Cribbs and Colt McCoy a few years back. I’m sure he’ll play a factor on Sunday.
As for the Browns, it’s year two of the Hue Jackson era. The roster has been turned over in a major way as the front office has collected draft picks and acquired some good players entering their prime to help the franchise turn things around.
The Browns have tabbed DeShone Kizer as their starting quarterback after the second round pick out performed Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler in training camp and preseason.
Some people think he’s not ready and I’ll admit he still needs some work but with Jackson and quarterback coach David Lee as guidance, Kizer should grow as the season progresses.
Kizer has a strong offensive line in front of him to keep him upright led by future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas and free acquisition Kevin Zeitler.
The running game led by Isaiah Crowell who is poised for a breakout season will help Kizer feel more comfortable.
The receiving weapons have a lot to prove so it’ll be interesting to see how they gel with Kizer.
On the defensive side, Gregg Williams is the new sheriff in town as he has made that side nastier than it’s ever been in Cleveland.
Veterans Jamie Collins and Jason McCourty have been brought in over the last year to lead this young group that has been drafted and continued to develop in Cleveland.
Expect Christian Kirksey to emerge as one of the top young linebackers in the NFL.
The defensive line has a ton of depth and even with Myles Garrett out for the first several weeks with a high ankle sprain, there’s enough talent there to get after Roethlisberger.
The secondary has question marks but keep an eye on Jabrill Peppers. He should be all over the field on Sunday as a safety, dropping down to linebacker, return man on special teams and you may even see him on offense as a wildcat.
Out: Myles Garrett (ankle)
Questionable: Danny Shelton (knee)
Out: Jerrad Hawkins (knee)
Questionable: Bud Dupree (shoulder)
Matchup to watch
Browns WRs vs Joe Haden
The Browns cut Haden almost two weeks ago after they asked him to restructure his deal due to performance and his high salary. The beloved former first round pick turned around and signed with Pittsburgh.
I don’t think it’ll be any surprise if the Browns target Haden a lot with any of their receivers.
Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Sammie Coates and Kasen Williams will probably all get their crack at the former Brown and I expect Jackson let the new guys know about Haden’s weaknesses and plans to attack it.
4.98 yards per carry
That’s what Isaiah Crowell is averaging against the Steelers defense since coming into the league in 2014.
His last game against Pittsburgh, he ran for 152 yards on 18 carries.
If the Browns want a chance to win on Sunday, they need to “Feed the Crow”.
Steelers 24 Browns 20