Browns vs. Steelers Odds & Picks: Pittsburgh Can Keep This Close Without Ben Roethlisberger
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images. Pictured: Myles Garrett (left), Mason Rudolph (right)
Browns vs. Steelers Odds
Is the Browns’ added motivation against the Steelers enough for Cleveland to overcome COVID-19 concerns and rebound from last week’s stunning upset loss to the Jets?
With the No. 1 seed and a bye out of reach, the Steelers will rest Ben Roethlisberger and roll with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. Center Maurkice Pouncey is also expected to be given the day off.
The Browns will be without cornerback No. 1 cornerback Denzel Ward and linebacker Malcolm Smith due to COVID. Both rank in the top six on the Browns’ defense in terms of Pro Football Focus grade, so these absences offset the advantage they would have otherwise gotten from the Steelers resting players.
The Browns did activate safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. from IR, which is a big boost considering safety Andrew Sendejo is also expected to miss this game due to COVID.
The Steelers are deep at the offensive line and skill positions, so a depleted Browns defense that enters Week 17 ranked 24th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA is a concern, even against a Rudolph-led offense. The Browns gave up 333 yards to the Jets last week — their second-highest total of the year — and allowed the Jets to play turnover-free ball for only the fifth time all season.
Missing their top-four wide receivers last week, the Browns offense was an unmitigated disaster against the Jets, gaining only 45 rushing yards on 18 attempts (2.5 yards per carry) while netting 254 passing yards on an absurd 57 dropbacks (4.45 adjusted net yards per attempt).
The Browns will be getting Jarvis Landry and the rest of their wide receivers back, so the offense should be at full strength with the exception of tight end Harrison Bryant (reserve/COVID-19).
The Steelers have the NFL’s top-rated defense in terms of DVOA, but are expected to rest linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive lineman Cam Heyward. This puts a dent in a Pittsburgh pass rush that ranks first in the league with a 33.1% pressure rate, according to Pro Football Reference.
A Pittsburgh pass rush at less than full strength is good news for Baker Mayfield, whose 45.7 passer rating under pressure ranks 36th of 42 qualifiers. Pittsburgh will also be without cornerback Joe Haden, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday.
The Browns could guarantee themselves a playoff spot with a win, but added incentive doesn’t tend to lead to improved against-the-spread (ATS) performance.
Last season, the Steelers beat the Browns, 20-13, with Devlin Hodges starting at quarterback and without key players such as James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pouncey and Stephon Tuitt. And the Steelers team that takes the field this Sunday will be no worse than the 2-13 Jets squad that upset the Browns last week.
According to our Action Labs data, Mike Tomlin is 37-19-2 (66%) ATS as an underdog in his career, including 12-3-2 (80%) without Roethlisberger.
Tomlin is also 9-8 straight-up as a moneyline underdog without Roethlisberger, and I went with Pittsburgh as a moneyline underdog in this week’s Action Network NFL Betting Podcast, so I wouldn’t hesitate to place a small wager on a longshot upset.
Pick: Steelers +9.5 (down to +7.5), +340 (down to +300)