No two AFC teams have played more than the Steelers and Browns. The two teams have played each other 139 times, with the first matchup taking place on Oct. 7, 1950. The Browns, in their first NFL season, defeated the Steelers that day en route to winning their first of four league titles.
After a decade-plus lull, the Steelers-Browns rivalry is back. Since 2018, the two teams are 3-3-1 against one another. Both teams are currently trying to move up the food chain that is the AFC North division. Cleveland, despite a rash of injuries, ended a two-game losing streak by defeating the visiting Broncos last Thursday night. The Steelers won just one of their first three games before rebounding with wins over the Broncos and Seahawks. Given the Ravens' and Bengals' fast starts, Sunday's game is pivotal as far as keeping pace with the rest of the division.
Before the 140th game between the two teams, here are five fast facts about the Steelers-Browns rivalry. We also rank the top six regular season games between the two teams.
Steelers lead all-time series 77-61-1
Cleveland held a 48-32 series lead entering the 1990s. During the rivalry's first two decades, the Browns won 31 of the series' first 40 games until Pittsburgh turned the tables in the 1970s. The most competitive decade between the two teams was in the 1980s, with the Browns winning the 10-year period with a 12-8 record.
The teams split their first eight games to start the 1990s. But things changed in 1994, when the Steelers won each of their three games against the Browns that included their first playoff matchup. From 1994-2017, the Steelers went 39-6 against the Browns to take control of the series lead. Pittsburgh took the series lead following its 34-7 win over Cleveland in Week 1 of the 2007 season. A large portion of Pittsburgh's success during this span was the disparity in quarterback play. While the Browns struggled to find a longterm starter, the Steelers enjoyed the steady play of Ben Roethlisberger, who is 24-3-1 against the team that famously passed on him in the 2004 draft.
Historic blowout wins
The Browns dealt the Steelers their biggest loss in 1989, when Cleveland came to Pittsburgh and left with a 51-0 win in the season-opener. The Steelers won the rematch one month later as both teams made the playoffs before falling to the eventual AFC champion Broncos. A decade later, the Steelers defeated the Browns, 43-0, in Cleveland's first game back after the original version of the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996. The Browns rallied to defeat the Steelers in Pittsburgh two months later.
Classic Clip of the Day— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) September 10, 2019
🏈 Richard Huntley 3 TD’s vs Browns
In 1999, the Steelers happily welcome the Browns back to the NFL with a 43-0 thrashing on the SNF opener
Huntley catches a TD pass from @KSlash10 , runs for a 2nd TD, and catches a pass from @miketomczak18 for his 3rd pic.twitter.com/HEZMoGR6hb
The Steelers have a 2-1 postseason lead over the Browns. Pittsburgh rolled to a 29-9 win over Cleveland in the divisional round of the 1994 playoffs. It was the first playoff loss for Bill Belichick, who one week earlier defeated the Patriots to record his first postseason win as a head coach. in the 2002 wild card round, the Steelers overcame a 24-7 deficit to defeat the Browns, 36-33. Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns, while Cleveland quarterback Kelly Holcomb threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort.
The Browns returned the favor this past January, as Cleveland raced out to a 28-0 lead en route to a 48-37 victory. Baker Mayfield led the way with 263 yards and three touchdowns, while Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Before coaching the Steelers, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher were Browns players. Noll played guard and linebacker during his seven seasons with the Browns. A key member of Cleveland's 1954 and '55 championship teams, Noll returned one of his five interceptions for a touchdown during the 1955 season. As a lineman, Noll was often used to funnel in the plays to Browns quarterback Otto Graham. Noll disliked the practice so much that he allowed his quarterbacks to call their own plays when he became coach of the Steelers. Noll's final win as the Steelers' coach came against Belichick and the Browns at the end of the 1991 season.
While the hometown Steelers did not pick him up, Cowher latched on with the Browns in 1980 after breaking into the NFL with the Eagles in 1979. A backup linebacker and special teams maven, Cowher was part Cleveland's "Cardiac Kids" team that suffered a heartbreaking loss to the eventual champion Raiders in the 1980 playoffs. Cowher spent three years in Cleveland before he was traded back to Philadelphia, where an injury prematurely ended his playing career. But Cowher was brought back to Cleveland after joining Marty Schottenheimer's staff in 1985. He spent two years as Cleveland's special teams coach and another two as secondary coach. The Browns played in consecutive AFC championship games over that span.
In Week 6 of the 1979 season, the two teams combined to score 86 points, as Pittsburgh left Cleveland with a 51-35 win. The Steelers took a quick 21-0 before the teams essentially traded points for the remainder of the game. Pittsburgh running backs Franco Harris, Sidney Thornton and Rocky Bleier combined to amass 351 yards and four touchdowns, while Terry Bradshaw threw three touchdown passes. Browns quarterback Brian Sipe threw five touchdowns but also threw three costly interceptions. His two favorite targets were tight end Ozzie Newsome and receiver Dave Logan, who caught a combined 11 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers went onto win their second straight Super Bowl and fourth over a six-year span.
Top five regular season games
6. 1952: Browns 21, Steelers 20
After winning the series' first four games with relative ease, the Browns found themselves trailing by 13 points in Pittsburgh before rallying to score the game's final two touchdowns. Otto Graham made up for his four interceptions by throwing for 401 yards and three touchdowns that included the game-winning score. He was aided by Hall of Fame running back Marion Motley, whose 142 all-purpose yards in the game included a 68-yard touchdown reception. Pittsburgh's offense was led by Steelers 2019 Hall of Honor inductee Elbie Nickel, whose two touchdown receptions helped the Steelers get out to an early lead.
5. 1963: Steelers 9, Browns 7
From 1950-58, the Browns dominated not only Pittsburgh but most of the NFL landscape. Cleveland won three championships over that span and played in the NFL Championship Game seven times. But the Steelers and the rest of the NFL began to catch up as the decade came to a close. Pittsburgh, after winning just six of their first 27 games against the Browns, went 4-2 against the Browns from 1959-61. Among Pittsburgh's wins over that span was a 21-20 nail-biter in 1959, as Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne led the Steelers to a come-from-behind victory in Cleveland.
A largely mediocre franchise for their first three decades, the Steelers enjoyed a brief run of success in the early '60s. In 1963, Pittsburgh found themselves in a tight race for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the NFL title game. The Browns, Giants and Cardinals were also in the running to play either the Packers or Colts for the world tile. That made the Steelers' Week 9 home game against the Browns a crucial game for both parties involved.
The game played out to be a showcase between two gritty defenses and two Hall of Fame running backs. Trailing 7-0 at halftime, the Steelers recorded a safety when linebacker Bob Schmitz tackled Jim Brown in the end zone. Legend has it that that was the first time Brown was tackled for a safety. Pittsburgh won the game when Ed Brown hit Gary Ballman for a nine-yard score in the fourth quarter. The Steelers were powered by John Henry Johnson, who rumbled for 131 yards on 27 carries. Brown ran for 99 yards on 19 carries.
The Steelers' ultimately fell short of the Eastern Conference title, but their win over the Browns played a role in the Browns also falling short of the NFL title game. Cleveland would rebound the following season, as Brown and Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield led the Browns to their fourth championship. The Browns would lose to the Steelers that season, however, behind an historic performance by Johnson.
60’s Saturdays— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) April 17, 2021
🏈 John Henry Johnson’s 200 yd game
The 1st Steeler to rush for 200 yds in a game and oldest player to do it (age 34), Johnson burns the Browns in 1964 en route to his 2nd 1,000 yd season as a Steeler, the first two such seasons in franchise history. pic.twitter.com/CkymPAa84j
4. 2007: Steelers 31, Browns 28
After getting blown out by the Steelers in Week 1, the Browns rallied to win five of their next seven games entering their Week 8 showdown at Heinz Field. Cleveland stormed out to a 21-6 lead behind three touchdown passes by quarterback Derek Anderson. Trailing 21-9 at halftime, the Steelers started the second half with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward. Roethlisberger then gave Pittsburgh its first lead on a 30-yard touchdown run, only to watch seconds later as Joshua Cribbs ran the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
The Steelers countered with a 78-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off of the clock. On their final drive, Anderson drove the Browns to within field goal range before Phil Dawson missed the game-tying, 52-yard attempt with seconds remaining. While both teams finished the season with a 10-6 record, the Steelers won the division by virtue of their season sweep of the Browns. Cleveland's playoff drought (which at that point was at five years) would last until the 2020 season.
THIRTY: The best TD run of Big Ben’s career. With the Browns on the heels of the Steelers in the 2007 season, Ben goes 30 yards for six to give the Steelers the lead. Pittsburgh would win the game & the division in Mike Tomlin’s first season as head coach. pic.twitter.com/G3GaqPOypm— COMON Network (@ComonNetwork) August 15, 2020
3. 1979: Steelers 33, Browns 30 (OT)
Trailing 27-13, the Steelers rallied to force overtime behind Franco Harris' two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh won the game on Matt Bahr's 37-yard goal in overtime. Dave Logan had his way with the Steelers vaunted secondary with 135 yards on seven catches that included a 33-yard reception. The Steelers enjoyed a stellar game from Harris, who complemented his 151 rushing yards with nine receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers would go on to defeat the Rams in Super Bowl XIV.
2. 1980: Browns 27, Steelers 26
Many viewed this as a "changing of the guard" game between the two franchises. After winning 11 of their previous 12 games against the Browns, the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Steelers fell to 4-4 midway through the 1980 season after relinquishing a 20-7 lead in Cleveland. The Browns rallied behind two touchdowns from running back Greg Pruitt and Ozzie Newsome's 18-yard, game-winning touchdown pass from Brian Sipe. Sipe riddled the Steelers defense to the tune of 349 yards and four touchdowns, while Steelers backup quarterback Cliff Stoudt threw for 310 yards in a losing cause. Cleveland would make the playoffs for the first time since 1972, while Pittsburgh would fail to make the postseason for the first time since 1971.
1. 1993: Brown 28, Steelers 23
The rivalry was never more even than it was in the late '80s and early '90s. The two teams split their season series each year from 1989-93. And while the Steelers were the better team in 1993, the Browns would salvage a series split by pulling off an electric upset win in front of a raucous home crowd of over 78,000 fans.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Browns struck first when Vinny Testaverde hit Michael Jackson for a 62-yard score. Moments later, Eric Metcalf took a Pittsburgh punt 91 yards to pay dirt. The Steelers avoided the early knockout by getting the ball to running back Barry Foster and tight end Eric Green. Foster's two short touchdown runs tied the score at intermission, while Gary Anderson's three second-half field goals gave Pittsburgh a 23-21 fourth-quarter lead.
Despite Metcalf's early score, Pittsburgh elected to punt to him again late in the fourth quarter. Once again, Metcalf quickly raced to the near sideline, where he broke the first tackle before following his convoy of blockers. Metcalf broke several other tackles before he was mobbed by his teammates in the end zone. The Browns clinched the win when Stevon Moore forced a fumble on Pittsburgh's last offensive possession. It would be the Browns' final win over the Steelers before the team moved from Cleveland to Baltimore.
25 years ago— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) October 25, 2018
The highly recommended 7 min version of this Game-to-Go is on my new channel: https://t.co/jzPxcnhRap
Twitter allots only 2:20 so I also made a mini-version starring @EricMetcalf21 and other great players like @merrilhoge pic.twitter.com/tMQYLLTw0z