The Pittsburgh Steelers look for their fifth straight victory when they travel to face their AFC North rival, the Cleveland Browns, on Thursday night. Pittsburgh is surprisingly in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC, while the Browns, despite lofty preseason expectations, are not.
The Steelers are 5-4 entering this game, sitting two games behind the Baltimore Ravens for first place in the AFC North. Pittsburgh would be the second Wild Card team in the conference if the playoffs were to start now, though they are currently tied with the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts and just a half-game ahead of the Tennessee Titans. At 3-6, the Browns trail all of those teams as well as three others in trying to get to the postseason party.
The moneyline for this contest has the Pittsburgh Steelers +130 and the Cleveland Browns -150. Cleveland is a three-point favorite playing at home, while the over/under for this game has been set at 41.
Continuing To Endure
Injuries have been a central story of the Steelers’ season, yet the team continues to fight on, going from an 0-3 start to where it is now. Backup quarterback Mason Rudolph has taken over the starting duties since Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined for the season with an elbow injury in Week 1, and he’s played well, throwing for 1,330 yards and 11 touchdowns despite suffering his own injury. James Conner is scheduled to come back from a shoulder injury that kept him out the last two games, which will certainly give the Pittsburgh running game more steam in this one.
Defensively, Pittsburgh has turned it up, especially since the acquisition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins prior to Week 3. Fitzpatrick has five interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries this season, and Pittsburgh went from allowing six passing touchdowns in its first two games to just nine in the last seven games since Fitzpatrick came aboard. The Steelers have allowed more than 20 points just twice in the last six games.
Crushed By Expectations?
Cleveland was supposed to be the front-runner in the AFC North by this point of the season, but the Browns were just happy to snap a four-game losing streak last weekend with a win over Buffalo. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has struggled in his second NFL season, throwing for 2,201 yards and nine touchdowns but also tossing 12 interceptions and taking 25 sacks. The Cleveland offensive line has struggled all season long, which is what makes running back Nick Chubb’s 919 yards and six touchdowns that much more impressive.
Defensive end Myles Garrett has been a force for the Browns, racking up 10 sacks to tie for third in the league and help the Browns to 26 overall. One big problem for Cleveland has been turnovers, with the defense getting just nine takeaways, while the offense has coughed it up 17 times. The Browns also have the third-most penalties in the league, committing 79 infractions thus far. The little mistakes have cost Cleveland in close games, and it will need to clean it up if it wants to make a late playoff run.
Steelers Earn Road Win
Pittsburgh’s defense has been great all season long, racking up 33 sacks and really turning it up after having to start the season with games against New England, Seattle and San Francisco. Against a team like Cleveland, which is very free and loose with the ball, the Steelers should pick up multiple turnovers. That will allow the Pittsburgh offense to get good field position and not have to sustain long drives to score. I’m taking Pittsburgh +3 to win this one outright.