By: Michael Stiffler, @Stiffeezy_ on Twitter
A Week 17 rematch is in the cards for the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Cleveland Browns travel to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night Wildcard matchup. “The Browns are the Browns” and that is why we ended the regular season on a down note going 0-3 in Week 17, finishing the year with a record of 26-21-1. This is the week we get it back and learn from our mistakes. As always, lines are brought to you via FanDuel Sportsbook. *Lines may change when and wherever you do your betting.
Let’s get started!
Spread: Pittsburgh -6.5 (Opened at Pittsburgh -3.5)
Big swing in the line from when it opened because the Browns COVID-19 situation. They will be without key individuals like guard Joel Bitino, cornerback Denzel Ward, and head coach Kevin Stefanski. Not only will important pieces be missing but the Browns have only practiced twice (Friday and Saturday) this week. This isn’t the best news as the Browns have had a rough history at Heinz Field. In their last 17 games at Pittsburgh, the Browns are 0-17, averaging 14.4 points per game with a -231 point differential (YIKES). The Browns also come into this matchup 0-2 ATS the last two weeks and 0-2 ATS against the Steelers this season. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will also have to play better than usual as he is 2-3 against the Steelers in his career (1-4 ATS), has never thrown for over 200 yards and averages 1 turnover per game (4 interceptions, 1 lost fumble). The tough part for Mayfield and company will be trying to slow a pass rush who produced 4 sacks a week ago WITHOUT Cam Heyward and Defensive Player of the Year candidate TJ Watt in the lineup. Right now the deck is stacked against a Browns team who barely beat a vanilla Steelers team a week ago.
Stiffler’s Pick: Pittsburgh -6.5 (Very Confident)
Total: Over/Under 47.5 (Opened at 47)
The total is probably the toughest part this week because each team comes in with the ability to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. The Steelers offense has been a tale of two halves. The first half offense the past two weeks has produced a total of 13 points, while the second half offense has put up a total of 37 points. On the flip side of things, how much of an impact will Stefanski’s absence have on that offense? His title might be head coach but he is also the Browns play caller and a big reason why the Browns have been able to turnaround their offensive misfortunes from a year ago. Instead offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will be calling the offensive plays for the first time since 2009 when he did so for the Buffalo Bills. The task might just be too tall as Stefanski in the first go around with a fully healthy Steelers defense was only able to produce 7 points. I have too many questions to feel confident in the over. For reference, 80% of the money has been bet on the over but the line only moved half a point. Something seems fishy there.
Stiffler’s Pick: Under 47.5 (Not Confident)
1st Half Spread: Pittsburgh -3.5
This is going to come down to the Steelers play calling and I am optimistic they have a feel for what is going to work. Ben Roethlisberger was given the last week of the regular season off so his arm should be well rested. The Steelers offense has seen success throwing the ball 10+ yards down the field in the second half the past two weeks, which has produced splash plays or garnered pass interference penalties (thank you Chase Claypool). The Browns defense is very susceptible to the pass, especially with cornerbacks Ward and Kevin Johnson still out. If they continue this play calling the Steelers should see success early. Go with the veteran head coach Mike Tomlin to come out the gates ready but just a fair warning, if those short passes come in bunches we might be sweating out this first half cover.
Stiffler’s Pick: Pittsburgh -3.5 (Confident)
Feel free to follow, fade, or criticize all picks. I wish you good fortune on your bets to come.