The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) would be a team that no one would want to face in the postseason with that dynamic offense led by Ben Roethlisberger. But because of a head-scratching loss in Week 16, the Steelers might not even make the postseason field. It's quite simple for them on Sunday: beat Cleveland and pray that the Buffalo Bills upset the visiting New York Jets. Both games do kickoff at 1 p.m.
The thing is, if Pittsburgh gets in I do believe it can win the AFC. The Patriots are totally banged up. The Broncos likely will be starting their backup quarterback. Ditto the Bengals. In fact, if the Steelers do get in they probably will play at Cincinnati next week. I'm assuming Cincinnati will be the No. 3 seed because I don't see Denver losing at home to San Diego on Sunday. I might favor the Steelers over the Bengals on wild-card weekend because reports are that Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton will not be ready to return then.
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As for Cleveland (3-12)? Yet another losing season and probably more turnover in the front office and coaching staff are coming. The Browns frankly will want to lose here as they are guaranteed no worse than the No. 2 overall pick if they do. Cleveland would pick No. 1 with a loss here and if Tennessee wins at Indianapolis. The Titans doing so isn't out of the question because the Colts likely will have to use Josh Freeman, Ryan Lindley or Stephen Morris as their starting QB with so many injuries at that position.
Steelers at Browns Betting Story Lines
Let's start with the big injury news here and that's whether Johnny Manziel will start at quarterback for Cleveland in what could be his final game with the franchise. He is in the NFL's concussion protocol, which means it's expected Manziel will sit. More often than not these days, guys are missing at least one game with a concussion. Austin Davis, who lost to the Bengals in his lone start of the season Dec. 6, will start here. It marks the fourth straight season the No. 3 quarterback has closed out the year for the Browns. Should Davis get hurt, that means Terrelle Pryor likely goes under center even though he's a receiver these days.
I do think Manziel will be back next season barring another off-field incident. Early reports were that Coach Mike Pettine also would return, although I find that hard to believe. Expect the Browns to go hard after Chip Kelly as they did a few years ago before he chose the Eagles. Manziel would appear to be a great fit in Kelly's offense; Kelly heavily recruited Manziel at Oregon and nearly got him. General Manager Ray Farmer won't be back, so that's why I find it hard to believe Pettine might be since new GMs generally want to hire their own guys.
There's no logical explanation for Pittsburgh losing at injury-ravaged and terrible Baltimore 20-17 last week to end a three-game winning streak. Perhaps the Steelers were looking past their rivals. Roethlisberger wasn't good at all, throwing for only 220 yards and two picks. He was totally outplayed by Ryan Mallett, which is something I never thought I'd write. The lone bright spot was DeAngelo Williams rushing for 100 yards and two scores.
But here's good news for this one: The Browns have finished their season by playing the Steelers in five of the last seven seasons: 2013, '12, '11, '10 and '08. Pittsburgh won them all by a combined score of 129-35. In two of those games the Browns started third-string quarterbacks as they will here (Jason Campbell in '13, Thad Lewis in '12). Also, bad news for Pettine: The last four Browns coaches who have been fired all lost their jobs after season-ending losses to Pittsburgh.
In Week 10 in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were 7-point favorites and rolled the Browns 30-9. Roethlisberger wasn't supposed to play that day with a foot injury, but when Landry Jones went down early with a leg injury of his own, Big Ben came off the bench and threw for 379 yards (most ever by a QB who didn't start a game) and three touchdowns. Antonio Brown had 10 catches for 139 yards and two scores and Martavis Bryant six for 178 and a score. Roethlisberger, an Ohio native, loves beating the Browns because they passed up on him in the 2004 draft. Manziel played fairly well, completing 33-for-45 for 372 yards, a TD and a pick. He was sacked six times. The Browns rushed for only 15 yards on 14 carries.
The Steelers' Brown will need a huge game to repeat as the NFL champion in catches and receiving yardage. He's No. 2 in both with 123 grabs for 1,647 yards. Atlanta's Julio Jones has 127 for 1,722. Jones figures to have a big day against a lousy Saints defense on Sunday.
Steelers at Browns Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is an 10.5-point favorite (+105) with a total of 47. On the moneyline, the Steelers are -525 and the Browns +415. On the alternate lines, Pittsburgh is -11 (-102), -10.5 (-110) and -10 (-120). The Steelers are 8-6-1 against the spread this season (4-3 on road) and 6-9 "over/under" (2-5 on road). The Browns are 6-9 ATS (3-4 at home) and 8-7 O/U (5-2 at home).
The Steelers are 6-1 ATS in their past seven Week 17 games. They are 8-3 ATS in their past 11 following a loss. Cleveland is 2-6 ATS in its past eight after a loss. The Browns are 1-5 ATS in their past six vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 5-0 in Pittsburgh's past five vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 4-0 in the Browns' past four. The under is 5-1 in the past six meetings. The home team is 6-2 ATS in the past eight.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Steelers at Browns Betting Predictions
I almost never recommend giving that many points to a home team. But I would think the Steelers will be dialed in here. Your one worry might be that the Jets lead the Bills by a ton at halftime and then Pittsburgh goes through the motions in the second half because it knows the playoffs are out. But I don't see the Jets doing that. To be safe, I'll give the 10. I can't see Davis leading the Browns to many points, so go under. The Browns managed a scant three points and 273 total yards of offense in Davis' only other start. The weather will be cold but nothing too bad.
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