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Browns at Steelers

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The AFC North race has turned into a battle to the finish line between the Steelers and Ravens, as each team enters Week 14 with a 9-3 record. Pittsburgh gets first crack at pulling into first place by themselves, hosting Cleveland on Thursday night. Besides the division title on the line, the Steelers have an excellent opportunity to help their cause for a potential first-round bye or even home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Amazingly, this is only the first meeting between these two old rivals, who are also set to meet in Week 17 in Cleveland. The Steelers probably need to win out to clinch the division title after losing the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Ravens, but Pittsburgh is playing its best football at the moment. Mike Tomlin's club is riding a three-game winning streak, including a key sweep over the Bengals to knock Cincinnati backwards in the division race.

The Steelers held the Bengals to their lowest-point total of the season in last week's 35-7 drubbing of Cincinnati at Heinz Field. In fact, it was Cincinnati's first loss this season by double-digits as Pittsburgh put the game away with 28 second quarter points. The Steelers improved to 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS at home this season, while limiting an opponent to 17 points or less for the fifth time at Heinz Field.

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The Browns (4-8) started the season at a surprising 2-1 after wins over the Colts and Dolphins, but Cleveland's true colors came out over the last nine games. The sputtering Browns' offense averages just 14.6 points per game, while scoring 14 points or less in seven of the previous nine contests. Baltimore dominated Cleveland last Sunday, 24-10, as the Ravens easily cashed as seven-point road favorites. The Browns racked up just 233 yards of total offense, while Ray Rice rushed for 204 yards by himself, helping Baltimore to its ninth win on the season. With the loss, the Browns dropped to 3-7-2 ATS and 1-4 ATS in the underdog role.

With Cleveland's ineptitude offensively and Pittsburgh's strength coming on the defensive side, 'unders' haven't been cashing at a steady rate for these two teams. The Steelers are 6-6 to the 'over,' while the Browns own a 7-5 mark to the 'under,' including six 'unders' in the previous eight games. Pittsburgh is a perfect 3-0 to the 'under' in three home games as a seven-point favorite or higher, which is the case on Thursday.

This series has been owned by the Black and Gold, winning 14 of the previous 15 meetings dating back to 2003. The only victory by the Browns in this stretch came on a Thursday night in December 2009, a 13-6 triumph in Cleveland as 9 -point underdogs. The Steelers cruised past the Browns twice last season, winning each game by double-digits. Pittsburgh beat up Cleveland in Colt McCoy's debut in October 2010 by a 28-10 count, cashing as 14-point 'chalk.' McCoy threw only one touchdown pass and five interceptions in two losses to the Steelers last season, while Ben Roethlisberger put up opposite numbers with five touchdowns and just one interception.

These two teams have gone in different directions from a divisional record standpoint recently. Pittsburgh owns an 8-3 ATS mark in its last 11 divisional contests (including two losses to Baltimore this season), while Cleveland is just 1-6 ATS the previous seven games against the AFC North. Meanwhile, the Steelers haven't been great at home off a win since last season, putting together a 2-7 ATS record, including an 0-3 ATS ledger in 2011.

The Steelers are listed as 14-point favorites across the board, while the total is set at 39. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 30's, as the game is set to kick off at 8:25 PM and will be televised on the NFL Network.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at rogers@vegasinsider.com

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

  
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