Steelers vs. Browns Odds & Picks: Why We Love Pittsburgh On Sunday Night
Getty Images. Pictured: Baker Mayfield, Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers vs. Browns
The 3-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers host their AFC North rivals — the 6-seeded Cleveland Browns — on Sunday night to close out Wild Card Weekend. With these teams having just met in the regular-season finale and their general familiarity with one another, where can we find the betting value on this primetime playoff showdown?
Find our comprehensive preview below, featuring the following (click a bullet point to skip ahead):
Browns vs. Steelers Picks
Our staff details how they’re betting Sunday’s game. Click on a pick type below to skip ahead to that analysis.
Palmer: With five of the six games concluded by the time this one kicks off, you’ll probably fit into one of two categories: Either you had a great weekend and are looking build upon your profits, or you’re looking to chase your losses on the last game of Super Wild Card Weekend. How you manage your bankroll is your business, but I do think this matchup represents an ideal situation to make a profit.
Browns fans have to be excited after finishing 11-5 — their best season since 1994, when Bill Belichick and Vinny Testaverde led them to the Divisional Round. But I’m going to be blunt here: This version of the Browns is one of the worst 11-5 teams in NFL history.
They had a point differential of -11 and a pythagorean expectation of just 7.7 wins with 8.3 losses. They rank 18th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA — including ninth in offense and 25th in defense — despite playing the 30th-ranked schedule of opposing teams. While the Browns were a popular play from sharps and wise guy syndicates to make the playoffs heading into the season, that was largely due to their schedule.
Nonetheless, the Browns are just the second 11-win team to have a negative point differential — the first was the 2012 Colts, who were subsequently eliminated on Wild Card Weekend. One can’t help but think the Browns will meet a similar fate in this spot against a rested Steelers team that almost beat Cleveland with their backups in Week 17.
Ben Roethlisberger has dominated the Browns over the course of his career, going 24-2-1 straight-up against his AFC North divisional foe. And according to our Action Labs database, Roethlisberger is 8-4 against the spread (ATS) at home against the Browns.
Roethlisberger faces an extremely favorable matchup against a Cleveland defense that ranks 25th in defensive pass efficiency (per Sharp Football Stats). When you consider that the Steelers’ inability to run the ball has forced them to become a pass-heavy offense, this matchup is especially favorable considering the absence of pass rusher Olivier Vernon.
Not only do the Steelers come into this game rested and with an edge on offense, but Pittsburgh’s defense sets up to take Cleveland’s offense into the deep waters and drown the Browns.
The Steelers rank eighth in DVOA and have the league’s best defensive efficiency, ranking first in success rate as well as second in expected points added and points allowed (19.5). More importantly, this a matchup that just doesn’t favor the Browns.
T.J. Watt leads a unit that ranks first in sacks (56), pressure rate (32.3%) and ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate (54%). This doesn’t bode well for a Cleveland team that will be without Pro Bowl Left guard Joel Bitonio and is dealing with the prospect of right tackle JC Tretter and right guard Wyatt Teller on the injury report.
Given the struggles of Baker Mayfield under pressure, he’s likely to struggle finding success in this matchup — he has just a 47 passer rating with a 43% percent completion rate while under pressure.
To make matters worse, a positive COVID-19 test for head coach Kevin Stefanski — who not only changed the culture of the Browns and revitalized Mayfield’s career — means he won’t be present to calls plays or have any communication with the team once they’re inside 90 minutes before kickoff, so Mayfield is essentially facing a situation in which the training wheels will be taken off.
Since 2002, quarterbacks making their first career playoff start against a quarterback with playoff starts under their belt are 13-32-1 ATS.
From a numbers perspective, this line has gotten away from us after opening at 3.5, now sitting at 6-6.5 depending on the book (shop real-time lines here). However, at Steelers -6 there’s still a solid edge on this game. This isn’t a good matchup for the Browns, so I’ll be laying the points with the favorites and expect them to boat race the Browns.
Steelers First-Half Spread
Arinze: After watching the Browns escape with a two-point victory against a watered-down Steelers team last week, I can’t go near Cleveland as a side.
As for Pittsburgh, it’s hard to like the Steelers at the current spread of -6 when earlier in the week they were available at -3.5. Instead, what I would consider is a play in the first half with the current odds at -3.5.
Pittsburgh can jump on Cleveland early, given the multiple COVID-19 issues that have plagued them this week.
Friday was the first time this week that Cleveland could enter its facility and conduct a practice. If that’s not enough, the Browns’ head coach and play-caller won’t be with the team after testing positive for the virus. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will be thrown right into the fire to handle the play-calling, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few bumps in the first half to get things started.
Historically, the Steelers have been dominant (69%) as a favorite in covering the first half spread against the Browns, and Sunday’s game sets up well for them again in this spot for all the aforementioned reasons.
The Steelers are available at -3.5 for the first half across multiple books, but be sure to shop around so you’re not paying more than the -110 juice that PointsBet is offering as of Saturday.
Browns-Steelers Player Prop Bet
Jarvis Landry Under 61.5 Rec Yards
Sean Koerner: This number is inflated, and I can’t figure out why.
Landry has gone over this number only once over the past 10 games. And the Browns offense is likely going to struggle against the Steelers’ No. 1 defense in DVOA. Not only is this Mayfield’s first playoff start, but the Browns will also be without Stefanski.
Most Valuable Browns-Steelers Players
Our Director of Predictive Analytics, Sean Koerner, highlights the five most valuable players for both teams based on how many points they’re worth to the spread.
- The losses of Devin Bush (+0.0) and Bud Dupree (+0.05) weren’t ideal. But it’s fair to say the defense is still in good hands as long as Cameron Heyward (+0.72), T.J. Watt (+0.58) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (+0.47) are all healthy.
- Tyson Alualu (+0.16) and Alex Highsmith (+0.11) have been pleasant surprises for this defense. They will be players to watch in the playoffs.
- Ben Roethlisberger (+2.8) has struggled at times, but with the Steelers’ defense (ranked third overall in Football Outsiders’ DVOA), he doesn’t have to play at an MVP caliber for Pittsburgh to win. If he gets hot in the playoffs, the Steelers could be the team that can beat the Chiefs.
- The Browns have a very balanced roster with nine starters with a +0.3 rating or higher, and three of those players are offensive linemen, only amplifying the lethal running back duo of Nick Chubb (+0.52) and Kareem Hunt (+0.24).
- Head coach Kevin Stefanski’s run-heavy approach has helped take the pressure off Baker Mayfield (+3.49). Since the Browns’ Week 10 bye — ignoring their Week 16 loss where four wide receivers were out — he has been playing lights-out.
- Myles Garrett (+0.76) is one of the few defensive players that could move the spread by a full point if he ever were to miss a game.
Browns-Steelers WR/CB Matchups
Wide receiver vs. cornerback matchups might be the most important individual matchups in football. Read senior NFL analyst Matthew Freedman’s breakdown of the expected matchups this Sunday.