Two AFC North rivals square off on Thursday Night Football this week, as the Steelers head to Cleveland to face the Browns. The Steelers have found their rhythm this season as they have won 5 of their last6 games. The Browns are reeling this season, but coming off of an upset victory over the Bills last week.
The Browns haven’t beat the spread at home this season, while the Steelers are 3-1 against the spread on the road. This is the first meeting for the two teams this season, as they are also set to square off in two weeks in Pittsburgh. The Steelers and Browns kicked off and finished their season against each other a year ago, Pittsburgh won both meetings.
Rudolph Lights the Way
When franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down early this season, fans didn’t know what to expect from backup Mason Rudolph. While Rudolph hasn’t exactly lit up the stats sheet, he’s put together a good enough season for the Steelers to remain in the playoff hunt. Rudolph has thrown for 1330 yards with 11 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.
Steeler leading rusher James Conner should return tonight as he’s practiced in full all week. Connor has done a fine job replacing Leveon Bell who departed for the Jets this offseason. Conner has 616 all-purpose yards this season, as he’s shown his receiving ability is just as potent as his running ability.
It’s impossible to talk about the Pittsburgh defense without mentioning their newest addition, cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. Since being traded from the Dolphins, Minkah has 5 picks, 1 forced fumble, and two touchdowns for the Steelers middling defense. Expect Fitzpatrick to give Baker Mayfield fits in coverage tonight.
Baker in the Kitchens
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens has received a lot of criticism about his offense this season. The Browns offense ranks 19th in total yards this season. Not what you’d expect from an offense with skill
players such as Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Odell Beckham Jr. Even in their win over the Bills a week ago, the Browns only put up 19 points and 368 total yards.
The offense has one of the biggest upsides in the league with the talent of its skill positions, and 2nd year quarterback Baker Mayfield. Nick Chubb has exploded onto the scene in his second year starting for the Browns, as he has already tallied nearly 1,000 yards and 6 scores on the year.
Defensively the Browns defense resembles their offense, nothing to write home about, but they aren’t terrible either. It ranks 19th overall in total yards, but they have figured out how to stop teams on third down, as they rank 6th in 3rd down conversions. They also rank 7th in both passing yards and attempts. They allow too many yards per rushing attempt, so look for Pittsburgh to use Connor a lot.
An Odd Favorite
In close matchups like this one, especially within the division, the home team is often favored. This matchup is no different as the Browns come in favored by 2.5 points. The Browns are only 1-3 at home this season, and as stated earlier, they haven’t beaten the spread at home this season, while the Steelers are 3-1 against the spread on the road. The pick here is the Steelers to win and cover, and with the O/U set at 41.5, I would likely bet the over as well.