Browns vs. Steelers Odds & Picks: How To Still Find Value On Sunday’s Playoff Favorite
Getty Images. Pictured: Ben Roethlisberger, Myles Garrett
Browns vs. Steelers Odds
|Odds as of Sunday evening and via PointsBet, where you can win $125 if Ben Roethlisberger throws 7+ yards.|
The Cleveland Browns punched their ticket to the playoffs by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers at home, 24-22. Now, the Browns will try to defeat the Steelers for the second time in seven days on Sunday of Wild Card Weekend.
While I’m sure that Browns Nation was thrilled with their win, Cleveland faced a Pittsburgh team that decided to rest multiple starters for the game.
The line for this game opened with Pittsburgh as a 3.5-point favorite. The Steelers are now as high as 6-point favorites after news broke that Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski was the latest member of the organization to test positive for COVID-19 (find real-time odds here).
If you like the Steelers and missed out on the earlier number at 3.5, you probably don’t want to play them at the current number — but there is still a way to find value on Pittsburgh.
Baker Mayfield will likely need to have a big day if the Browns are to have any chance at winning. In his third year, he improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 22-to-21 to 26-to-8. If we look at his mark in ESPN’s Total QBR, it’s up 18 points from 52.4 to 72.4. While that all sounds fine and well, there are warning signs for this Browns team.
Per TeamRankings, the Browns are ranked 31st in strength of schedule. And while they won 11 games, they were the only team with double-digit wins that got outscored by its opponents this season (419-408). Based on their Pythagorean expectation, the Browns clearly overachieved, as they were much closer to an eight-win team than an 11-win team.
The handicap of this game largely revolves around Mayfield’s ability to handle the Pittsburgh defense. In five games against the Steelers, Mayfield is 2-3 with a Total QBR average of 47.62. And a closer look at those games reveals that both of his wins came against a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger.
You could make the argument that last week, Mayfield and the Browns were fortunate to win against the Steelers.
Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph actually outplayed Mayfield. Rudolph completed 22-of-39 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns, and was a 2-point conversion away from tying the game in the fourth quarter with less than two minutes remaining on the clock.
Perhaps what’s even more fascinating was how competitive the game was despite Pittsburgh resting multiple starters. The Browns will not have that same luxury this time around on Sunday.
Stefanski’s absence might be as critical a loss as any player currently listed on their injury report. He’s also their offensive play-caller, and the specificity of that role within the team cannot be overstated.
The Browns still have multiple players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio. They did activate safety Andrew Sendejo, and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is also set to rejoin the team after clearing the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Pittsburgh started the season red hot with 11 straight wins.
The Steelers faced a tough scheduling spot toward the end of their winning streak when they faced the Ravens on a Wednesday, only to return the following Monday to take on the Washington Football Team. The Steelers ended up losing then, spiraled into a three-loss streak.
There is no question that Pittsburgh was exposed over that losing streak. Opponents caught onto the Steelers’ short passing schemes and brought more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.
Pittsburgh was also struggling in the running game with James Conner out with a quad injury. The offense had become stale and predictable. Even Roethlisberger remarked that opposing defenses were calling out their plays. To his credit, the wily veteran called some audibles that helped the Steelers get back in the game.
if you want to know why the Steelers offense looked better in the 2nd half, it’s because in the 1st half, pre-snap the Colts were calling out OC Randy Fichtner’s terrible, predictable plays…
so Ben called his own plays that were not part of Fichtner’s game plan in the 2nd half pic.twitter.com/QEEwGIC5Bb
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) December 28, 2020
The idea that Pittsburgh’s coaches were unaware their play-calling needed some freshening up is a problem for me. However, I don’t think it will be a problem this weekend against a Browns team the Steelers have had repeated success against in the past.
If Mayfield is the X-factor for the Browns, I would have to say the Steelers’ X-factor is their defense.
Pittsburgh is still the NFL’s best defensive unit per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Last week, Cleveland rushed for 192 yards against a Steelers defense without multiple starters, yet they still needed a goal-line stand on a 2-point conversion to seal the game.
In their first meeting in Week 6, Pittsburgh held Cleveland to 75 rushing yards with Nick Chubb inactive. While I don’t expect the Steelers to repeat that performance, I also don’t expect them to allow 192 yards on the ground, either.
This Pittsburgh team is still in the top five in rush defense DVOA. If the Steelers can contain the Browns in the running game, it’ll be up to Mayfield to try to beat Pittsburgh through the air. That would play right into the hands of a Steelers team ranked No. 1 in pass defense DVOA.
Pittsburgh’s decision to rest some weary players in Week 17 was a good one. In fact, it’s led to a much shorter injury report this week.
Of the seven players listed on this week’s report, six of them were full participants in Friday’s practice (find latest updates here). Kicker Chris Boswell (groin) was the only player who was a limited participant.
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 for this game.
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.
Pick: Steelers 1H -3.5 (-110)