Steelers forced to root for fierce rival Browns

PITTSBURGH — In the uncomfortable position of needing help to make the playoffs, the Steelers are sending good vibes the Cleveland Browns‘ way.

The Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals coupled with a Cleveland Browns win over the Baltimore Ravens.

“Pray for Cleveland. Pray for the Browns,” said safety Sean Davis with a smile, before stressing the Steelers are focused on beating Cincinnati.

Davis added he might have to send Baker Mayfield a “little something, something” as a gift if the rookie quarterback and AFC Offensive Player of the Week can pull off the feat in Baltimore.

The Steelers (8-6-1) relinquished the North after losing 31-28 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, their fourth loss in five games. Meanwhile, the Ravens (9-6) have won five of their last six games but face a hot Browns team that’s riding a three-game winning streak.

The Steelers also can make the playoffs with a tie against the Bengals and a Ravens loss, or a win over Cincinnati combined with a tie between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans. The Browns last defeated the Ravens at Baltimore in 2015.

Pittsburgh has won seven straight games against the Bengals, but four of those games were decided by seven points or less.

Coach Mike Tomlin said he won’t worry about what’s happening in other stadiums Sunday, and players are following suit.

“With the way [the season] has gone, it’s a little deflating. But at the end of the day, it’s not over. We realize that, too,” guard David DeCastro said. “You just have to know there’s a chance. As bad as you feel now, you’ll feel worse if Baltimore loses and you lose, too.”

With a top-shelf offensive line, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leading the league in passing (4,862 yards), a stellar receiver duo in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster and an improving defense, the Steelers believe they can beat anybody. But they’ve also shown they can lose to just about anybody, falling short at Denver and Oakland during a pivotal three-game losing streak during November and December.

And now the Steelers root for Cleveland, and cornerback Joe Haden, a Brown from 2010 to 2016, believes in his former team.

“I’ve talked to a couple of them, just giving them some motivation,” said Haden with a smile. “But at the end of the day, I know those dudes, I know how they feel over there. Even if they may not be in the [playoff] picture, they want to end on a good note.”

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