Wild Card Weekend ends with an AFC North rivalry between the six-seed Cleveland Browns (11-5, 5-3 away) and 3-seed Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, 7-1 home) on Sunday night. These two teams played each other twice during the regular season, including last week. The rubber match kicks off at 8:15 p.m. EST at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh is a 6-point favorite in the wild card tilt, according to oddsmakers.
What to Know – Cleveland Browns
Cleveland secured their playoff bid with a win over this Steelers team last weekend, punching their postseason ticket for the first time since the 2002 season. The Browns finished the season with the same record as the Baltimore Ravens, one game behind Pittsburgh. Cleveland had to shut down their team facility until Thursday due to several positive COVID-19 tests.
Baker Mayfield made a huge step in his quarterback progression this season, throwing 13 fewer interceptions than he did in 2019. The third-year player threw for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns even without top wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the latter portion of the season.
Two two-headed rushing attack of Nick Chubb (190 carries, 1,067 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Kareem Hunt (198 carries, 841 yards, six touchdowns) combined for one of the league’s best rushing duos. Hunt added an additional element as a pass-catcher, hauling in 38 receptions for 304 yards and a team-high five receiving touchdowns.
Jarvis Laundry stepped in once Beckham was sidelined with a season-ending injury and led the Browns in targets (101), receptions (72), and receiving yards (840). Rashard Higgins added 37 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns in Beckham’s absence.
What to Know – Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh has lost four of their last five games after starting the season 11-0. The Steelers held onto the divisional title but looked shaky over the previous two months. Expect the Steelers to be well-rested heading into Sunday night’s game, with many key players resting last week in their loss to the Browns.
After missing most of last season, veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger bounced back and put together a solid season under center. Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns, the second-highest passing touchdown count of his career. Big Ben doesn’t get the ball down the field as well as he used to, so the Steelers utilize a short passing game to attack opposing defenses.
Since shifting to a short passing game, the Steelers have all but abandoned the running game. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher in a game since Week 6. James Conner rushed 169 times for 721 yards and six touchdowns to lead the league’s worse rushing offense.
Diontae Johnson (88 receptions, 923, seven touchdowns), Chase Claypool (62 receptions, 873 yards, nine touchdowns), and Juju Smith-Schuster (97 receptions, 831 yards, nine touchdowns) all surpassed 800-yards receiving throughout the regular season. Five players combined to score all 35 of the Steelers receiving touchdowns this season.
The Pick is In
The Browns facility being closed for most of the week during playoff preparation isn’t ideal, but you typically don’t see intense practices this late in the season. Plus, having played each other twice this season, the two teams know each other’s tendencies well. The rest should rejuvenate the Steelers after sluggish performances over the final weeks of play, but Cleveland keeps it within a touchdown.
The Pick: Cleveland +6