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Thursday night football here as the Cleveland Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns finally picked up a desperately-needed win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, while the Steelers picked up their fourth straight victory. Oddsmakers opened the Browns as a slight favorite for this one, which will be televised nationally on FOX.
The Steelers started the season 1-4, and with Ben Roethlisberger out for the year with an elbow injury, it started to look like their season was over. They showed remarkable resiliency however, rattling off four straight wins entering this one. The defense has been dominant, and Minkah Fitzpatrick has been playing lights out since they acquired him. Can Mason Rudolph pick up another win here?
Cleveland started off disastrously just like the Steelers. After all the offseason hide they were the subject of, they fell flat on their faces when the games actually started, and had a 2-6 record through eight games. In a must-win game this past Sunday, they finally emerged victorious against the Bills. Things didn't exactly go smoothly or according to plan, but they got the win and that's all that matters.
Steelers Getting Lucky?The Steelers certainly looked like they were dead and buried. Ben Roethlisberger was set to miss the rest of the season with his elbow injury, and Pittsburgh stood at 1-4 after the first handful of games. Instead of throwing in the towel though the team doubled-down on 2019. They traded a first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, and so far that move has been paying off handsomely. The Steelers have rattled off four straight wins to improve to 5-4, and Fitzpatrick has been a large part of their resurgence. But while the winning streak has been nice, I'm still not completely sold on this Steelers team. They've caught a lot of breaks, and their win over the Colts is a perfect example. It took Jacoby Brissett getting hurt early on, Brian Hoyer throwing a 96-yard pick-six in relief, the Colts muffing a punt, and Adam Vinatieri shanking a game-winning field goal all for them to win by just two points.
Even against the Dolphins, they trailed 14-0 before storming back. Quarterback Mason Rudolph has been pretty awful the entire time, and he's been getting carried by the defense. In the game against the Colts Rudolph averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt with an interception, and he could struggle on the road here. In their most recent game against the Rams, the offense only scored ten points. They won 17-12 because of a very questionable call that allowed a Jared Goff "fumble" to be returned for a touchdown. So far, Rudolph has only averaged more than 6.6 yards per attempt once in his seven appearances, and that was against the lowly Bengals.
Browns Back?The Cleveland Browns finally picked up a desperately needed win this past week. After falling to 2-6 the criticism was relentless, and questions began to swirl about whether or not Freddie Kitchens is the right coach and if Baker Mayfield is the franchise quarterback everyone thought he was. At least for one week, they were able to get the critics off their back by beating the Buffalo Bills.
They only won by three points but the margin could've been a lot more, and Cleveland thoroughly outplayed them. Mayfield played a clean game, tossing two touchdowns with no turnovers against a tough Buffalo defense. The defense was even more impressive though, keeping the Bills in check on the ground and through the air. The Browns are 3-6, but the AFC wild card race is wide open. The Browns have an incredibly easy final seven games on their schedule, so it's understandable why those inside the building haven't given up on winning out and sneaking into the postseason. The key here is going to be Cleveland's offensive line.
Pittsburgh's pass-rush has been on fire recently, and T.J. Watt is going to be very hard to slow down. I think the Steelers' secondary is exploitable, but the offensive line is going to need to give Mayfield time to throw. The other key to slowing down this pass-rush is to get the ground game going. Quietly, the Browns might have the most talented backfield in the entire league. Kareem Hunt returned from suspension last week, and he looked great in the passing game, reeling in seven catches. The two-headed backfield of Hunt and Nick Chubb is going to be tough to stop.
Trends, courtesy of Covers.com: Browns are:
- 6-2 ATS in their last 8 vs. AFC North
- 6-2 ATS in their last 8 Thursday games
- 8-21-1 ATS in their last 30 road games vs. a team with a losing home record
- 1-3-1 ATS in their last 5 games vs. the Browns
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
I like the Browns a lot here. Pittsburgh's win streak is completely phony, and that becomes clear when you dig into it. They've rattled off a string of fluke wins, which has caused the market to inflate their standing and provided some value here on Cleveland. The Browns finally got the monkey off their back with a win over the Bills, and I think they could start to find a groove now that the schedule is getting a lot easier. The Steelers' run defense won't be able to slow down Chubb and Hunt, and the Browns will roll here.
Prediction: Browns -2.5 (-120)
Full-Game Total Pick
I think the under also makes a lot of sense in this spot. Rudolph has quietly been pretty terrible, and there's no way you can expect him to come out and play well here on the road in primetime. The defense has been fueling the Steelers' win streak, and the under is unsurprisingly 5-2 in their last seven games. This is a must-win game for both sides in a rivalry matchup between two teams who hate each other. I think both squads are going to run the ball as much as possible, which will help ensure this one is pretty low scoring.