On the Steelers: Few, if any, signs of rivalry

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Mike Tomlin tried. He tried real hard Tuesday to push two points at his weekly news conference.

Point one, he talked about the 2010 Cleveland Browns as if they were the 1964 Browns, the last major Cleveland sports team to win a championship.

Point two, he continued to portray Browns-Steelers as a "rivalry."

The 2010 Browns lug a 5-10 record and three-game losing streak into their final game of the season Sunday against the Steelers in Cleveland. And they represent a little more of a rivalry for the Steelers than the Carolina Panthers.

"We're excited about the opportunity to end our season against an AFC North team in the Cleveland Browns, one that we respect," Tomlin said. "We understand what's at stake here. What better way to have to go about winning the division than to go on the road and have to do it in a rival's home."

Give Tomlin credit for trying to turn lemons into lemonade. There is plenty at stake here for his team, the difference between a No. 2 seed and a bye into the second week of the playoffs vs. the No. 6 seed and a road you wouldn't want to drive. He did his best Tuesday to make the Browns sound like the New England Patriots.

The Browns can beat the Steelers. They beat them last December, essentially providing the final blow to their playoff chances. They also own a victory against the Patriots back on Nov. 7, stunning as it was.

A Cleveland upset is not out of the question, and that's what needs to happen more often before this again approaches rivalry status. There was no fiercer rivalry in the NFL from the 1950s through the mid-1990s than Browns-Steelers. But when the Browns moved to Baltimore in '96, the rivalry went south with them and, perhaps, the best rivalry in the NFL since then has been Steelers-Ravens.

"We have a rivalry vs. the Ravens, vs. the Bengals, and the Browns as far as I'm concerned," Tomlin insisted. "That's the nature of AFC North football. Their perceptions of the rivalry I can't control."

But, if playing a team more often than others is considered a rivalry, then the Harlem Globetrotters have one with the Washington Generals; Steelers-Browns results have been similar since Cleveland rejoined the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1999.

The Steelers have won 13 of their past 14 games against the Browns, 19 of the past 21, including one playoff victory (2002) -- the only time the New Browns have made the playoffs.

But there is that close proximity, a two-hour bus ride from Pittsburgh.

"Anytime in the National Football League you're getting on the bus to go play a game, man, that's a pretty heated rivalry," Tomlin actually said.

Maybe he meant the bus was pretty heated, not the rivalry.

"Not many bus trips in the National Football League," Tomlin continued. "Just from proximity's standpoint, it's unique. History is what it is: two storied franchises, the fans. I think the close proximity and history makes it what it is."

What it is, what it has been stretching back to the previous century, is a cakewalk more than a rivalry. Even when the Old Browns were good, the Steelers mowed them down. Before they moved to Baltimore, the Browns lost six consecutive games to the Steelers, including three times in 1994, the third one a playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium. Counting those, the Steelers have won 26 of their past 30 games against the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns would love nothing better than to turn that into 26 of 31 by pulling their second consecutive upset of the Steelers in a December game at home that meant little else to them but ruins the season for their "rivals."

"We have to go into an AFC North city and do the job, and I'm sure they're not for us doing it, so it's going to make it interesting and exciting,'' said Tomlin.

Polamalu decision Friday

Troy Polamalu, who has missed the past two games with an Achilles-related injury, will not practice until Friday, and that is when Tomlin will determine if he will return to play Sunday.

"We're going to look at him and watch him move here a little bit this week," Tomlin said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility that he could play this weekend, and, if he's healthy, he will."

Halfback Mewelde Moore has a sprained knee, and Tomlin described him as questionable for Sunday.

If he cannot play, rookie Jonathan Dwyer could suit up for his first game.

Tomlin listed two defensive starters who might be limited in practice early but whom he expects to play -- cornerback Bryant McFadden (hip pointer) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (swollen left knee). Rookie linebacker Jason Worilds (swollen knee) also may be limited in practice and is unlikely to play.

Defensive end Aaron Smith, who has not played since his triceps were torn Oct. 24, "is healing nicely."

"Again, he's pushing and lifting weights and so forth and is inching closer to practice participation, and, of course, hopefully game participation, here at some point," Tomlin said.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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