So much has changed in the AFC north in just a few days but, in the end, it all remains the same for the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers: Win this week to stay in the race for the division and playoffs.
A loss this week will not doom either team’s playoff chances but would dramatically hinder their ability to win the division.
Just days ago, the Browns were thought to be contenders for the AFC North after a huge comeback against the Baltimore Ravens.
Now, Deshaun Watson and Joe Burrow are out for the season the the Ravens took care of business against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football.
For Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Week 11 could be impacted by injuries to their secondary. Three of the four starting safeties in the game will be out which could help two offenses that are not strong.
Here are the final injury reports for Browns vs Steelers:
Thursday A daily NFL destination that provides in-depth analysis of football’s biggest stories. Each Thursday, Mike Sando examines an emerging storyline around NFL quarterbacking.
News that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will undergo season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder broke Wednesday while I was researching historical context for C.J. Stroud’s breakout rookie season with the Houston Texans. The timing was appropriate.
The quarterback trajectories of these franchises, linked by the historic trade sending Watson from the Texans to the Browns before the 2022 season, have diverged in consequential ways.
Twenty months after the Browns acquired Watson from Houston, setting into motion a chain of events that included the Texans using the second pick of the 2023 draft for Stroud, only one of these teams should feel great about its future at the position.
It’s not the team that invested three first-round picks, among other draft assets, and $230 million in guaranteed salary for an established star.
Cleveland, tethered to Watson financially through 2026, will be banking on him to do in 2024 what he has not done since 2020: produce at an elite level.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Browns are doomed. Some of the key points regarding Watson and the Browns are commonly misunderstood, including the No. 1 item on my list of Cleveland thoughts and takeaways with Watson headed to injured reserve.
Massive new contracts typically do not affect the salary cap much right away.
That was the case with Cleveland and Watson after the team reworked his deal to lower the cap charge in 2023.
With the Watson deal counting less than $20 million against the cap this season, the Browns have on their roster a league-high 11 players earning at least $12 million per year.
Their defense ranks first in the NFL since at least 2000 in EPA per play and success rate, according to TruMedia. Their prime window to win a championship should have included this season (more on that later).
The cap charges for Watson come due soon. His deal is scheduled to count nearly $64 million against each of the next three caps (2024, 2025, 2026).