I'm watching this snooze-fest of a game and all I keep thinking is: What do people always say about NFL football? Games are won in the trenches. Defense and rushing win championships. Line line line line line.
So what am I looking at in these two AFC North rival teams?
First, the Browns. If you listened to just about any "hardcore" NFL fan, they would tell you that a solid football team starts with an offensive line. Build an O-line above all else. You just have to look at this board to see the same sentiment leading up to next year's FA and draft. So what have the Browns done? How about put together the best LT, LG, and arguably one of the best centers in the conference. They have spent 2 high first round draft picks and a mountain of money assembling what should be the premiere O-line in the league. And what do they have to show for it? Well it just so happens that neglecting skill postions - QB, RB, WR - tends to make an impact even with a great O-line. Surprise, surprise.
And on the other side? Well the Steelers have had one of the worst O-lines in the league for years. Before Pouncey came along they barely had an above-average player at any spot on their line. What did they do with that over the last 5 years? Only 3 Super Bowl appearances and 2 Lombardi trophies. Why is that? Elite QB, RB, and receiver play. Granted, it took drafting the most elusive QB in the history of the game to make that plan work, but here we are.
This is a new era in the NFL. No one is going to argue that offensive lines are not vitally important to the game, but it is clear now that TOP TIER skill position players make the difference. That goes on both sides of the ball. CB's are more valuable than DT's. Receivers are more valuable than guards. The whole paradigm has shifted in the last 10 years. It makes me lean more towards reaching for high end RB and WR prospects over the old wisdom of building your lines. It's hard to complain about adding solid line depth, but it's starting to become clear that the game is being won by skill positions.