PITTSBURGH - The scenario that will play out today in Heinz Field was supposed to work in reverse.
At least that's the way the seasons shaped up for the Cleveland Browns and Steelers almost three months ago. Through five games the Browns were 3-2 and in first place in the AFC North Division. The Steelers lost their first four games heading into a bye in Week 5.
After a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in London that dropped the Steelers' record to 0-4, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that they were the worst team in the NFL. It must have been a wake-up call as the Steelers (7-8) have gone 7-4 since and maintain a remote chance of qualifying for the playoffs with a win over the Browns in the regular-season finale today.
It hasn't worked out quite so well for the Browns, who have won only once since early October. They enter today's game having lost nine of the last 10 games and six straight in falling to 4-11.
Looking for motivation, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski can rely on the belief that a win in the final game can have a carryover effect into the next season. A win also would give the Browns a 3-3 record in the AFC North and victories over each of their divisional rivals.
"That would be big," Chudzinski said. "Certainly, I don't know that that's been done before in the AFC North by the Browns, so it's something that would mean a lot."
As for the carryover factor? It's probably more fiction than fact. The Browns won the final four games of the 2009 season and then opened the 2010 season with three straight losses on the way to a 5-11 record.
"It can (carry over)," Chudzinski said. "It depends on how you handle it and what that meant during the course of the season. At the end of the day, every season is different. You like to have some momentum if you can at the end of the season."
Chudzinski doesn't want to think far enough ahead as to what a loss would mean for the Browns' position in the 2014 draft order. They are currently slotted fifth overall, but a loss today, coupled with a win by the Jacksonville Jaguars over the Indianapolis Colts, would elevate them to third.
"I don't think of anything else other than winning and doing the things to give ourselves the best chance to win," Chudzinski said. "I think that's important. It's important that guys have played their best or had their best seasons."
This could be quarterback Jason Campbell's final opportunity as a starter for the Browns. The team has an option on his contract for 2014 that expires in February. The Browns would save $2,250,000 in cap space by waiving Campbell.
Campbell had a few positive performances earlier this season but has struggled of late. The string of losses and his poor play have taken a toll.
"I feel as a team, including myself; we're kind of pressing," Campbell said. "We want to be too perfect instead of relaxing and just playing football. Going into the last week, there's still a lot to play for as far as your mindset. We're going to do everything we can to get back to basics."
It would seem at this time that Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback next season. He was playing well at the time he lost his job when he tore knee ligaments against the Buffalo Bills.
"I've been in those shoes before," Campbell said. "You lost your job because of injury. I have the utmost respect for Brian, but at the same time, whatever my role is I'm still competing. I'll do whatever I can to help whoever it is."
Campbell might not get that chance.