NFL Pregame Ritual (Week 14)
Welcome to a special Thursday edition of the Pregame Ritual. Tonight's matchup might be frightful, but football played in a blizzard is delightful. Settle before TV's warming glow. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Games to watch
Pittsburgh at Cleveland (8:20 p.m. ET)
We'd like to personally thank the Steelers for their recent play. A month ago, this game would have been borderline unwatchable, but Pittsburgh's collapse, including losses to the lowly Raiders and Chiefs, suddenly makes this must-watch television again unless you're a Browns fan. If that's the case, you probably should just enjoy NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup. After all the pain this season has caused, you probably could use the laugh.
Fine, I'll ask
Five questions about tonight's game
Considering the Steelers and Browns have combined to lose 11 straight, could we describe tonight's snowy environment as a "winter blunderland"?
Would Charlie Weis be joining the Browns solely to see whether he could finally help Brady Quinn win a Heisman, or does he just want to mix things up by going to a place where he's not expected to win?
Everyone makes fun of the Raiders. So why did Mike Tomlin's words finally fire up the Raiders?
Given that the Browns have lost 25 of their past 28 to the Steelers, is this the most one-sided rivalry since Tupac and Chino XL?
Most important fantasy players
Hines Ward: Just like stupid penalties, shaky clock management and Internet message board posters, Hines absolutely kills bad teams. If he plays, he conquers.
Rashard Mendenhall: Usually one player from each team appears in this space, but let's be honest -- Cleveland players don't win fantasy championships. That honor is reserved for those lucky few who face the Browns, making Mendenhall a huge play this week.
Streak for the Cash pick
Cleveland points scored over Pittsburgh winning margin
Pittsburgh has shown very limited ability to blow out teams this season, and its defense is just not the same without Troy Polamalu. Plus, surely no quarterback in NFL history is only half as good as Bruce Gradkowski, who hung 27 on the Steelers in Week 13. So, if Brady Quinn can't put up at least 13 to help cover this pick, organizers should put together a pay-per-view QB "Bust-Off" between Quinn and Tim Couch. All proceeds could go back to Cleveland to help recoup its investments sunk into these two disappointments.
Toby Mergler is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., who previously has written for MLB.com, Fanball and the Virginia Law Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.