Wild Card Weekend comes to a close with a good old fashioned AFC North rivalry. The Cleveland Browns will play their first postseason game in 18 years on Sunday night in Pittsburgh against the Steelers. The Browns came away with a narrow win over the Steelers at home last week, but Pittsburgh rested a number of starters with the game having very little meaning for them.
The Browns will be the shorthanded team this week, however. Starting guard Joel Bitonio and reserve wideout KhaDarel Hodge are among a few players that have been forced to miss this game as a result of NFL health protocols. The Browns will also be without head coach Kevin Stefanski, which is arguably the biggest blow of all. Stefanski has played a huge role in helping the Browns to a 10-win campaign in his first year on the job, but health guidelines will keep him away from the team on Sunday.
Despite being without a couple of key players and their coach, the Browns are only six-point favorites on the road here.
The Pittsburgh Steelers started the season 13-0 and looked primed to challenge the Chiefs for supremacy in the AFC. After Thanksgiving, though, the wheels fell off the wagon. Pittsburgh limped to a 1-4 finish over their last five games, and they came dangerously close to entering the playoffs on a five-game losing streak. They needed a strong second-half surge to knock off the Colts to clinch the division in Week 16.
Pittsburgh’s offense is almost entirely reliant on Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben led the NFL in passing yards just two years ago, but he looked terrible in the latter stages of the regular season.
Roethlisberger’s lack of mobility means the Steelers’ offense is incredibly one-dimensional. There is zero play-action involved in this offense, which essentially puts Big Ben into the shotgun to drop back on every single play instead.
Obviously, the lack of diversity makes it easier for opposing defenses to gameplan for Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger has several high-caliber weapons at his disposal, but it’s fair to suggest that this team was playing over its head for the first three-quarters of the campaign. While I don’t think they’re as bad as they have looked recently, it’s difficult to have too much faith in a team that entered the postseason in such ragged form.
The Cleveland Browns‘ offensive philosophy is almost entirely different than the Steelers’. Rather than letting Baker Mayfield drop back 50 times a game, the Browns try to control the clock with their running game. Only three teams in the league (Baltimore, New England, Tennessee) ran the ball on a higher percentage of their offensive plays this season than Cleveland did. The Browns rushed with Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt on better than 48 percent of their snaps this season with excellent results.
The Steelers were one of the best defensive teams in the league this season, but they were stingier against the pass. You can run on the Steelers a little bit, and Cleveland’s chances of winning the game rely on their ability to establish that part of their game in this one. If the Browns are unable to control the clock and keep Roethlisberger off the field, they could be in for a rough evening.
What’s the Best Bet?
This game has all the makings of a classic AFC North slugfest. This game has one of the higher over/unders of any game this weekend (47), which comes as a bit of a surprise given how both teams play. The Browns aren’t all that equipped to hang with the Steelers if this game turns into a shootout, especially with the big-play ability of the absent Odell Beckham Jr.
I think points will come at a premium on a chilly night in the Steel City.The under on 47 points looks like a pretty good bet given the way both teams play. We have a couple of capable defenses going toe-to-toe, so a low-scoring result is entirely possible here. Take the under on 47 points for Browns-Steelers.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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