By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
PEOPLE WHO were picking the Steelers and Browns to battle it out for last place in the AFC North Division may be in for a real surprise if the early season is any indication.
Already the two teams are tied with Cincinnati for first place in the division while the defending Super Bowl champs are bringing up last place.
OK, I realize that Baltimore is the only team to have played a game yet, but it’s nice anytime the Browns are tied for first.
After this weekend, will the Steelers and Browns still be tied first the lead? Read on!
Pittsburgh has looked pathetic in preseason, going 0-for-4. But as everyone knows, the preseason doesn’t mean much. Maybe!
The scary thing about the preseason is that it revealed a problem that Pittsburgh has faced the last few years. The offensive line isn’t strong and Big Ben is often forced to run for his life.
While Roethlisberger is good at avoiding trouble, the number of hits he takes add up. And he’s no spring chicken anymore.
The running game is also questionable. Jonathan Dyer will not put fear in too many NFL defenses. (Oh, where have you gone Franco and Jerome?) And if you don’t have to worry about big break-away runs, you can attack the quarterback at will.
The Steelers are 6-0 in home openers under Mike Tomlin and they get a break against a rebuilding Tennessee team this year. Still, something was missing from the team in the preseason that has made them great in the past — desire. Not only did they not win a game in preseason, they looked extremely bad most of the time as if they weren’t even trying.
It’s hard to turn the switch too quickly back to high intensity. So I look for a young determined Titans club to overcome the 61⁄2 point spread and beat Pittsburgh, 20-16.
Meanwhile, Cleveland has looked surprisingly good in the preseason, with the exception of poor play against Indianapolis. The big key is the showing of quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is seeming to flourish under the system of the new coaching staff.
The Browns are hosting Miami in the opener, a meeting of two clubs who are expected to finish low in the NFL pack. But while the Browns aren’t ready for the Super Bowl, they should be much improved.
This is a year with a new coaching staff that they plan for the future and build a team that can contend in 2 or 3 years.
But today the Browns should roll past the Dolphins, 30-13.
Following are the rest of this week’s picks (betting lines in parentheses just for fun):
Detroit (-41⁄2) over Minnesota
New England (-10) over Buffalo
Indy (-91⁄2) over Oakland
Philly (plus 31⁄2) over Washington
San Fran (-41⁄2) over Green Bay
New Orleans (plus 3) over Atlanta
Carolina (plus 3) over Seattle
St. Louis (-41⁄2) over Arizona
NY Jets (plus 3) over Tampa
Dallas (-3) over NY Giants
Chicago (-3) over Cincy
Houston (-31⁄2) over San Diego
Kansas City (-31⁄2) over Jacksonville
Lynn Saternow is sports editor of The Herald.