NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
I've been writing three weekly NFL game previews - Thursday night, a Sunday matchup that interests me or in which I have a strong betting feeling, and Monday night - for years. Not sure I've ever previewed two regular-season meetings between the same teams in one year. A playoff rematch from a regular-season meeting, sure. That probably happens again this winter.
Well, we're going to look at Browns-Steelers this Sunday even though we did in Week 1 and got it half wrong. Back then, I wrote that I thought the Browns would be much better this year, and they are, but recommended Pittsburgh at an alternate line of -3 as well as under the total of 45.5. It ended in a 21-21 tie thanks to both kickers missing winning field goals.
One problem with that pick was it was written the day before Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell was expected to report to the team - at that time, he was expected to show up. As we all know now, Bell still isn't with the club and apparently won't report until after next week's trade deadline because he doesn't want to be dealt. Bell clearly likes having the Steelers over a barrel and will save plenty of wear-and-tear on his body, theoretically, by playing only half a season.
And by not signing his franchise tender until after next Tuesday's trade deadline, Bell essentially guarantees he won't be in Pittsburgh next year and an unrestricted free agent. Bell must report by Nov. 13 -- the Tuesday of Week 11 -- in order to play this season. I would love to be a fly on the wall of that locker room when he does report because clearly the players are tired of this crap and more than ready to move on with very productive James Conner (who is going to have some sort of role even when Bell returns).
Browns at Steelers Betting Story Lines
I'm largely previewing this because of the Browns, who might be the most interesting 2-4-1 team in NFL history and this probably will be it for them on my 2018 writing calendar. Cleveland played yet another overtime game last week, the team's fourth, and lost 26-23 at Tampa. Baker Mayfield led a rally from down 14 in the fourth quarter, tying it at 23-all on a 16-yard TD pass to Jarvis Landry with 2:28 to go. However, Chandler Catanzaro, who earlier had missed a PAT and a chip-shot field goal, hit an unlikely 59-yard field goal late in OT to win it.
Mayfield was very efficient in completing 23 of 34 for 215 yards, two TDs and no picks. Rookie Nick Chubb officially became the featured back with the surprising trade of Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville, and Chubb contributed 80 yards and a score on 18 carries. Landry and David Njoku had the two TD catches - these are all younger guys I'm mentioning, so this team is only going to get better and better. It just doesn't know how to win yet.
I do believe that Coach Hue Jackson will be fired after this season despite obvious improvement if the Browns keep losing close games. Jackson said after Sunday's loss he's taking a larger role in the offense, which I'm sure just thrills OC Todd Haley (a former Steelers OC), who wasn't exactly a happy-go-lucky guy during "Hard Knocks." Jackson's the head coach and he can do what he wants, but getting more involved with the offense almost doubles his chances of being a scapegoat. Jackson did say Haley will keep the play-calling duties.
The Steelers are about as healthy as possible off their bye week. Last Sunday went about as well as it could have for Pittsburgh with Cleveland losing, Cincinnati getting trashed in Kansas City and Baltimore blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and losing a shocker at home to New Orleans. That left Pittsburgh alone in first in the AFC North despite a 3-2-1 mark.
Pittsburgh's offense ranks fifth in the league in scoring despite no Bell, but the defense is still an issue. You hear the Steelers are very interested in Cardinals Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, who reportedly is available. Pittsburgh's secondary is set for some in-house help as safety Morgan Burnett has been practicing and should play Sunday. Burnett has been out since Week 2 because of a groin injury. He used to be a great player with Green Bay.
Browns at Steelers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is a 9-point favorite (+100) with a total of 51. On the moneyline, the Steelers are -370 and Browns +310. On the alternate lines, Pittsburgh is -8.5 (-105), -8 (-110) and -7.5 (-115). Cleveland is 5-2 against the spread (2-1 on road) and 3-4 "over/under" (1-2 on road). Pittsburgh is 3-3 ATS (1-2 at home) and 4-2 O/U (2-1 at home).
The Browns are 4-10 ATS in their past 14 in October. They are 4-14-1 ATS in previous 19 vs. the AFC North. The Steelers have covered five straight in October. They are 1-7 ATS in past eight at home and have failed to cover past five out of a bye. The under is 5-1 in Cleveland's past six after a loss. The over is 5-2 in Pittsburgh's past seven vs. the division. The Browns are 3-0-1 ATS in the past four meetings.
Browns at Steelers Betting Prediction
This line opened at Steelers 7.5, so I wonder if it might get as high as 10 or 10.5. Probably not as I'm guessing late sharp money will be on Cleveland. Frankly, I'd either take the Browns at +10 or the Steelers at -6.5 to be safe. To me, this one is most likely decided by a touchdown. So, at the numbers available to us now, take the Browns +9 and under the total.
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