The Browns have had numerous opportunities to win a game this season, most notably when they held a 21-7 second-half lead on the Packers only to lose in overtime. Their final opportunity to win will come Sunday in Pittsburgh.
It’s been a while since the Browns (0-15) won at Heinz Field, where Pittsburgh’s only setback this season was the controversial 27-24 loss to the Patriots on Dec. 17. Cleveland’s losing streak in Pittsburgh spans 13 games, but last season’s Week 17 contest went into overtime, and the Steelers (12-3) won by just a field goal in Cleveland in the 2017 season opener.
The Chiefs (9-6) are locked into the No. 4 seed in the AFC and will rest starting quarterback Alex Smith. Coach Andy Reid announced this week he will start rookie Patrick Mahomes against the Broncos (5-10) in Denver, where the 2017 first-round pick will have to keep his rocket arm in check in the thin air of the Mile High City to end Kansas City’s long QB drought.
It’s the professor against his prized pupil, and their history together will headline the chatter surrounding this game. From 2004 to 2015, Smart spent every season but one as a member of Saban’s coaching staff. Saban has been Smart’s mentor, as the 42-year-old worked for Saban at LSU, the Miami Dolphins and Alabama, where he was eventually promoted to defensive coordinator. He is in only his second season at Georgia, but in his nine seasons with Alabama, Smart helped the Tide win four national titles. To say Smart learned a thing or two is an understatement. The question is whether he learned enough to outsmart the man who taught him much of what he knows. Alabama has won each of its 11 games against teams coached by Saban’s former assistants — by an average of more than 28 points.
The Tide’s defense looked much stronger and healthier against Clemson than it did toward the end of the regular season, when it was ravaged by injuries, particularly at the linebacker position. Georgia finished with five rushing touchdowns against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, and Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined for 326 yards — the most by a duo in a single game. Michel finished with an eye-popping 16.5 yards per carry (181 on 11 carries).
With such opportunistic defenses on both teams, neither offense can afford to give the ball away. Clemson gave up two interceptions against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, including one that was returned for a touchdown. The Alabama defense has forced at least one turnover in 41 of its past 43 games, dating to the start of the 2015 season.