TNF – Steelers at Browns
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LAST WEEKFollowing an 0-3 start and a season that looked like it was going nowhere, the Steelers (5-4 SU, 6-3 ATS) have fought back to get back into the AFC Wild Card race. Pittsburgh is doing all of this after getting rid of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in the offseason, while franchise cornerstone Ben Roethlisberger sustained a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2. The Steelers finished off a three-game homestand a perfect 3-0 with an impressive underdog win over the defending NFC champions Rams, 17-12.
Not only did Pittsburgh cash outright as four-point underdogs, but the Steelers limited their fourth opponent in the last six games to 17 points or fewer. The 17 points the Steelers scored last Sunday were their fewest since the Week 1 blowout loss to New England, but quarterback Mason Rudolph connected with former Oklahoma State teammate James Washington on a three-yard score late in the first quarter. The go-ahead touchdown came from September acquisition Minkah Fitzpatrick, as the ex-Dolphins’ safety recovered a Jared Goff fumble and returned it for a score to help Pittsburgh win its fourth home game of the season.
The expectations in Cleveland were sky-high at least for the Browns (3-6 SU, 2-6-1 ATS) when the season began as being the 2019 AFC North champions. The Browns have a long way to go to catch the division-leading Ravens and are on the outside of the Wild Card race following a 2-6 start, but Cleveland ended its four-game skid in a not-so-pretty 19-16 home victory over Buffalo on Sunday. Cleveland pushed as three-point favorites, but the Browns finally picked up their first win at FirstEnergy Stadium since Week 16 of 2018 against Cincinnati.
In spite of getting stopped six times (SIX TIMES!) from the two-yard line on one drive in the first half, the Browns rallied from a 16-12 deficit thanks to a Baker Mayfield touchdown strike to Rashard Higgins with under two minutes remaining. It was the only catch of the day for Higgins, a fifth round pick out of Colorado State in 2016, but it marked the first time this season Mayfield threw multiple touchdown passes in a game. Running back Nick Chubb eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the third time in four weeks with 116 yards, while Kareem Hunt posted 30 rushing yards in his Cleveland debut following an eight-game suspension.
DOG DAYSThe Steelers head into the Dawg Pound as one of the better underdog teams in the NFL by owning a 4-1 ATS mark when receiving points this season. Rewinding back to the start of the 2018 campaign, Mike Tomlin’s squad has put together an impressive 10-1 ATS record in the ‘dog role, including six outright wins. Pittsburgh hasn’t hit the highway in over a month as the Steelers tripped up the Chargers with third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges, 24-17 as six-point ‘dogs in Week 6.
UNDER THE LIGHTSAmazingly, the Steelers are on in primetime for the fifth time this season and have won in the past three appearances. Dating back to 2016, Pittsburgh has posted a 6-1 record in its last seven road primetime contests with the only defeat coming at New England in Week 1 this season on a Sunday night. Cleveland is making its fourth appearance in primetime this season as the Browns routed the Jets in Week 2 before losing to the Rams and 49ers as an underdog.
TAKE THE THURSDAY NIGHT POINTS AND RUNUnderdogs through the first 10 Thursday night contests this season own a magnificent 8-2 ATS mark, capped off by the Raiders (+1 ½) edging the Chargers last week, 26-24. Amazingly, not one single-digit home favorite on Thursday night has covered the spread (0-4 ATS), as the last home chalk to cash on a Thursday was the Patriots back in Week 6 against the Giants as 17-point favorites in a 35-14 blowout.
SERIES HISTORYThe Browns last defeated the Steelers in Week 6 of the 2014 season, 31-10 as 2 ½-point home favorites. Pittsburgh has put together a 7-0-1 record the last eight matchups with Cleveland, as the two AFC North rivals finished in a 21-21 tie in the 2018 season opener. The Browns rallied from a 21-7 fourth quarter deficit to force overtime, but neither team could take the final lead in the extra 10 minutes, as Cleveland cashed in the role of a home underdog.
Tyrod Taylor started the opener against Pittsburgh, but Mayfield faced the Steelers the second time around at Heinz Field in Week 8 as the Steelers routed the Browns, 33-18 as 8 ½-point favorites. Steelers’ running back James Conner ran all over the Browns in both meetings, which included a 135-yard effort at Cleveland and 146 yards in the home matchup, while finding the end zone twice in each game.
TOTAL TALKThe Steelers have watched the ‘under’ go 6-3 this season and that includes a 3-0 mark on the road. Cleveland has slightly leaned to the low side this season, producing a 5-4 mark through nine games. As of Wednesday, the total on this game is hovering between 40 and 41 points at most betting shops.
Chris David offered up his thoughts on the total for this primetime matchup and bettors should be aware that the ‘over’ has now cashed in the last six games played in that nationally televised spots under the lights.
He said, “This isn’t an easy total to handicap and you could certainly argue both ways. For starters, this series has watched the ‘over’ go 4-2 over the last three seasons and that includes a run of three straight tickets to the high side. The one consistent factor during this run has been Pittsburgh, who averaged 25.6 PPG. With that being said, this isn’t the same the Steelers offense that we’re used to and you could toss out the aforementioned numbers.”
“From a current form standpoint, neither team has been a juggernaut this season. The Steelers have been held under 300 yards of total offense in four of their last five games and the one outlier was against the Dolphins. Meanwhile, the Browns have averaged 343 YPG in their last three games but the offense has only mustered up 17 PPG. Cleveland is one of four teams in the league that has more field goals (16) than touchdowns (13) and all of those clubs boast a losing record,” added David.
David noted in last week’s Total Talk segment how divisional games produced a 19-10 (66%) record through the first six weeks of the season but the pendulum was swinging back. In the last four weeks, the ‘over’ has gone 10-5 in these games and that includes a 3-2 record in Week 10.
Despite the uptick in ‘over’ bets, he isn’t buying the high side in this divisional matchup. He explained, “While it wouldn’t be my strongest lean, it’s hard not to play the ‘under’ in this game especially if the Steelers don’t have Conner available. Both teams are ranked in the bottom third in offensive efficiency and the Steelers have created plenty of turnovers, it’s impossible to handicap those. I believe we’ll see a tight game, something in the neighborhood of 20-17.”
HANDICAPPER’S CORNERVegasInsider.com NFL expert Joe Nelson points out that in spite of Cleveland’s disappointing start, there is still light at the end of the tunnel, “The remaining schedule is relatively promising with two games with the Steelers in the next three weeks plus two games with the Bengals and games with the Dolphins and Cardinals. Baltimore remains in Week 16 at home, but a strong finish to get to 9-7 and a possible Wild Card spot isn’t impossible as the stakes are high this week after the Browns finally finished off a close game for a win last week.”
The quarterback matchup pits a pair of players who shined in the Big 12, but Nelson notes things have changed for Mayfield and Rudolph on this level, “Only Sam Darnold has a worse QB Rating than Mayfield among qualified starters this season but he actually has a slightly higher QBR than Rudolph. The quarterbacks faced off in the Big 12 as rivals with Mayfield’s Oklahoma team winning all three meetings vs. Rudolph and Oklahoma State. The 2017 meeting was a shootout with Oklahoma winning 62-52 in Stillwater, but they now lead two of the lower scoring teams in the NFL with the Steelers averaging 21.4 points per game and the Browns 26th in the league at 19.0 points per game.”
PLAYER PROPS – According to Westgate SuperbookTotal Completions – Mason Rudolph (PIT)
Over 20 ½ (-110)
Under 20 ½ (-110)
Total Touchdown Passes – Mason Rudolph (PIT)
Over 1 ½ (+140)
Under 1 ½ (-160)
Total Receiving Yards – Juju Smith-Schuster (PIT)
Over 54 ½ (-110)
Under 54 ½ (-110)
Total Gross Passing Yards – Baker Mayfield (CLE)
Over 245 ½ (-110)
Under 245 ½ (-110)
Total Rushing Yards – Nick Chubb (CLE)
Over 85 ½ (-110)
Under 85 ½ (-110)
Total Receiving Yards – Odell Beckham, Jr. (CLE)
Over 70 ½ (-110)
Under 70 ½ (-110)
LINE MOVEMENTThere hasn’t been much movement in terms of the side on this game, which opened with Cleveland at -2 ½ (-120) at Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas. The Westgate pushed the Browns up to -3 (EVEN), while other books have remained with the Browns at -2 ½ (-120).
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