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Steelers, Roethlisberger eyeing one last stand vs. Browns

January 2, 2022 GMT
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

CLEVELAND (7-8) at PITTSBURGH (7-7-1)

Monday, 8:`15 p.m. ET, ESPN

BETTING LINE: Browns by 3, according to FanDuel SportsBook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Browns 7-8; Steelers 6-9.

SERIES RECORD: Steelers lead 77-62-1.

LAST MEETING: Steelers beat Browns 15-10 on Oct. 31 in Cleveland.

LAST WEEK: Browns lost to Packers 24-22; Steelers lost to Chiefs 36-10.

BROWNS OFFENSE: OVERALL (16), RUSH (3), PASS (27), SCORING (19).

BROWNS DEFENSE: OVERALL (7), RUSH (10), PASS (8), SCORING (17).

STEELERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (22), RUSH (15), PASS (29), SCORING (22).

STEELERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (26), RUSH (32), PASS (13), SCORING (22).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Browns 0; Steelers minus-1.

BROWNS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Baker Mayfield has a chance to erase so much of what has gone wrong for him this season by playing well in Cleveland’s last two games — at Pittsburgh, and home against Cincinnati. Mayfield’s dealt with injuries that have affected his performance, making it tricky for the Browns to assess his long-term future.

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STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Ben Roethlisberger will likely be making his last start at Heinz Field against a team he has tormented for years. It’s been an uneven 18th season for the 39-year-old Roethlisberger, but one of the highlights came in a 15-10 win in Cleveland on Halloween, his 25th victory over the Browns.

KEY MATCHUP: Cleveland’s offensive line against Pittsburgh’s defensive front seven. The Steelers kept Browns star RB Nick Chubb and company relatively in check in October, holding Cleveland to 97 yards on the ground. It’s been downhill ever since for the NFL’s worst rush defense. With Mayfield coming off a four-pick performance, Cleveland might be better served to just have Mayfield hand the ball to Chubb and let him go to work against a defense that’s allowed 178.9 yards on the ground over its last eight games.

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KEY INJURIES: The Browns are much closer to full strength after getting back some key players, including DE Jadeveon Clowney, RB Kareem Hunt, C JC Tretter, LT Jedrick Wills and K Chase McLaughlin from the COVID-19 reserve list. ... Starting rookie CB Greg Newsome cleared concussion protocols after missing the past three games. ... Hunt is still slowed by an ankle injury. ... Star DE Myles Garrett has been dealing with a groin injury but is expected to play. ... Cleveland’s secondary will be short-handed with safeties John Johnson III (hamstring), Ronnie Harrison Jr. (ankle) and nickel back Troy Hill (knee) all out. ... Hunt, who has missed seven games with injuries, and DT Malik Jackson (knee) are questionable. ... Steelers Pro Bowl LB T.J. Watt has been on a pitch count of sorts over the past two weeks while dealing with hip, knee and groin injuries. ... Rookie TE Pat Freiermuth is likely to play after missing the loss to Kansas City because of a concussion. ... C Kendrick Green (calf) and RG Trai Turner (knee) are questionable. There’s an outside chance LG Kevin Dotson (ankle) could be activated in time to play. ... The Steelers have been relatively healthy from a COVID-19 standpoint, with only practice squad players currently in the league’s protocol.

SERIES NOTES: Cleveland and Pittsburgh have not played on Monday night since 1995. ... The AFC North rivals met in last year’s playoffs with the Browns winning a wild-card round game, their first victory in the postseason since 1999. ... Cleveland has lost 17 straight regular-season games at Heinz Field. The last win was in 2003. ... Pittsburgh will attempt to sweep the Browns in the regular season for the 14th time since the Browns returned in 1999. ... The Steelers are 14-1 against Cleveland in home regular-season finales.

STATS AND STUFF: Despite a roller-coaster season marred by injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, the Browns entered the weekend with a chance to win their first division title since 1989. The same goes for the Steelers, though any scenario for both teams starts with losses by the Ravens and Bengals on Sunday. ... The Browns are trying to make the postseason for the second straight season after an 18-year drought. ... An inability to finish games has doomed the Browns, who have lost six games by six points or less. ... Browns coach Kevin Stefanski missed the team’s previous visit to Pittsburgh as he was forced to isolate at home following a positive COVID-19 test ahead of last season’s playoff game. ... Mayfield’s final pick last week came with 43 seconds left and the Browns driving toward a potential winning score. ... The Browns rushed for 219 yards against the Packers, with RB Nick Chubb getting 126. Despite missing three games, Chubb is third in the NFL with 1,143 yards. ... Cleveland’s 5.13 yards per rushing attempt lead the NFL. ... Garrett comes in with a career-high and single-season team record 15 sacks. He had just one in Cleveland’s loss to Pittsburgh earlier this season. ... The Steelers have been nearly unbeatable at home on Monday night since the national showcase debuted in 1970. Pittsburgh is 28-5 all-time at home under the Monday night lights and has won 19 straight home Monday night games, a streak that dates to 1991 and includes a victory over the Bears on Nov. 8. ... Pittsburgh’s 50 Monday night wins are tied with San Francisco for the most ever. ... Roethlisberger is 91-31 during the regular season at Heinz Field, the third-most wins by a QB at home, trailing only Tom Brady and Drew Brees. ... If this is it for Roethlisberger, he will retire in the top 10 in NFL history in yards passing (fifth) and touchdown passes. ... The Steelers have struggled to score points early in games. They haven’t gotten a first-half touchdown in five games, the franchise’s longest such drought since 1940. ... Pittsburgh’s 26th-ranked defense is on pace for the franchise’s worst performance since 1988, when the Steelers finished 28th in yards allowed while going 5-11.

FANTASY TIP: Chubb figures to get the ball early and often against Pittsburgh’s battered defensive front. After only getting 16 carries in the loss in October, expect Chubb to have a far heavier workload as both teams potentially fight for their postseason lives.

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