Despite losing starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1, the Steelers shrugged off a 1-4 start to surge into playoff contention and will take a four-game winning streak into tonight's matchup thanks to a defense that has stepped up in a big way. From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, we break down the best ways to wager the odds for the Thursday nighter.
Baker and the Browns face a tough task in this one going up against a Steelers Defense that ranks third in the NFL in DVOA and fourth against the pass. But if there is an area where the Pittsburgh defense isn’t as strong, it’s against the run. That likely means they will see a heavy does of Nick Chubb (and to a lesser extent Kareem Hunt) early on as the Browns attempt to establish themselves on offense.
But Cleveland has been notorious for having issues punching the ball into the endzone once they get into the red zone, and now face a Pittsburgh team that ranks fourth in the NFL in opponent red zone touchdown scoring percentage. We like the first points to go on the board via a field goal.
Pick: First Score - Field Goal (+100)
FIRST HALF BET
While the Pittsburgh defense have been thriving, the offense has been doing just enough to get by. The Steelers Offense ranks 29th in DVOA, but hopefully they can improve on that with the return of running back James Conner. The Pittsburgh back missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, but gouged Cleveland for 281 yards rushing and four touchdowns last season.
If nothing else, Conner alleviates some of the pressure from Mason Rudolph, and should allow him to attack a Cleveland defense that ranks 23rd in DOVA with some play action. But with the ground game expected to be the focus for both teams early on, we like this one to be low scoring heading into the break.
Pick: Under 20.5 First Half Total
The arrival of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has been a huge reason the Steelers Defense has taken a leap this season. Since trading for the Alabama product back in Week 3, the Steelers are 5-2 and Fitzpatrick has hauled in five picks, forced two fumbles, recovered another and scored two touchdowns. Thanks to that productions, the Steelers rank second in the NFL in takeaways per game.
That doesn’t bode well for Baker. Mayfield has thrown 12 interceptions and has one fumble this season for an offense that ranks 27th in turnovers per game. With Pittsburgh also not being the greatest when it comes to ball security, we really like the value on a defensive or special teams touchdown scored tonight.
Pick: Defensive/Special Teams TD - Yes (+225)
FULL GAME TOTAL
While we’ve actually seen some soring in the Thursday nighter the past couple of weeks, these two teams line up to return to what we are more accustomed to. And that is slog of a game. The fact that this is a rivalry game, could make it even tighter.
The Browns are scoring just 18.2 points per game at the Dawg Pound this season, while Pittsburgh manages just 15.7 points per game on the road. Only Miami, Cincinnati, the New York Jets and Washington score less away from home.
With both teams ranking near the bottom of the league in red zone touchdown scoring percentage, and the Steelers Defense playing at an elite level right now, this has the feeling of a classic hard-hitting AFC North matchup.
Pick: Under 41.5
FULL GAME SIDE
As mentioned, if Cleveland wants to turn its season around it needs to start tonight against the Steelers. Mayfield has been playing better the last three weeks and still has some very talented weapons at his disposal. But with Freddie Kitchens still manning the ship, the Browns are always going to be at a disadvantage.
From questionable play calls to the lack of discipline, it is clear as day Kitchens was not ready for this job. The Browns rank 31st in penalties per game and dead last in penalties at home at 9.8 per contest. And he hasn’t figured out how to use his best pass catcher yet. Mayfield said they needed to feed Odell Beckham Jr. more and they tried last week, targeting him 12 times, but that resulted in just five catches for 57 yards.
This is a hard game to peg. The Browns can pull out a win at home, but with the Steelers Defense is playing it will likely be close either way. Take the points with the road team.
Pick: Steelers +3
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