The Browns head into Pittsburgh for their first playoff game in 18 years with a slight twist on one of the NFL's most time-honored cliches:
Next Former Viking Up.
The latest COVID-19 uprising to rock Cleveland canceled practices until Friday while sidelining eight players, including two starters, at least two assistant coaches and, yes, head coach and former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
No problem, says Stefanski. He's got trusted special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, another former Viking who stepped in for Mike Zimmer on a day's notice and almost beat a 10-1 Cowboys team when Zimmer had emergency eye surgery in 2016.
"I have a ton of confidence in Coach Priefer," Stefanski said. "He knows this team very, very well from a roster standpoint but also based on how we play. I think it is a very natural place to go in an interim setting where he cannot miss a beat, and then you let the offensive and defensive coaches focus on their side of the ball."
One of those coaches is defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who is, yep, another former Viking. All told, there are 11 former Vikings who helped the Browns to an 11-5 record and the AFC's No. 6 seed. The others are:
• Tight ends coach Drew Petzing and defensive backs/passing game coordinator Jeff Howard. They also will miss Sunday night's game because of COVID-19 protocol.
• Offensive passing game coordinator Chad O'Shea.
• Senior offensive assistant Kevin Rogers.
• Strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus.
• Starting safety Andrew Sendejo.
• Starting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
• Backup quarterback Case Keenum.
Priefer will continue running special teams while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will assume Stefanski's play-calling duties. As for those unpredictable game-management decisions, Priefer said he will "try to do exactly what Kevin would do."
Priefer didn't face any difficult decisions in that Cowboys game in 2016. The Vikings were 6-5 and Dallas had won 10 straight when the Vikings closed to within two points, 17-15, with 30 seconds left. The 2-point conversion attempt was doomed when right tackle Jeremiah Sirles false started.
What was difficult, however, was the short notice that came the night before the Thursday night game.
"I didn't know until after the mass on Wednesday night," Priefer said. "Rick Spielman, our general manager in Minnesota, he grabbed me right after that meeting and said, 'Oh, by the way, you're going to be the head coach tomorrow night. You want to do it?' I said, 'Absolutely.'"
Priefer praised the way the Vikings played that night with Pat Shurmur running the offense and George Edwards running the defense.
"The thing that I learned the most that is you have to have good people around you," Priefer said this week. "And we do have good people here."