In the final game of Wild Card Weekend, the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers will host the 11-5 Cleveland Browns in their third meeting of the year. No. 3 Pittsburgh enters as AFC North champs but coming off of losses in four of their last five, while No. 6 Cleveland won in Week 17 against these very Steelers to clinch their first playoff berth since 2002.
Here is a look at this upcoming matchup, complete with a free pick. Currently, the Steelers are a six-point favorite at home.
In the first meeting between these teams back in October, the Steelers dominated from start to finish. Pittsburgh cruised to a 38-7 victory, dominating on defense. The home team managed to hold Cleveland to 1-for-12 on third down while also sacking Baker Mayfield four times and intercepting him twice. Pittsburgh also ran in three touchdowns from three different players, with James Conner getting the bulk of the work and rushing for 101 yards.
Week 17 looked a little different, with the Steelers having the division wrapped up and playing Mason Rudolph. Running back Nick Chubb was healthy for the Browns, unlike in their first meeting. As a result, Cleveland held off a late rally by Pittsburgh to win 24-22 and clinch a playoff spot. Chubb had more than 100 yards rushing with a score, while Baker Mayfield threw for a touchdown and didn't turn the ball over, but was still sacked four times. For Pittsburgh, both Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster had touchdown catches, as Rudolph ended up throwing for over 300 yards.
These teams are about even in scoring, with the Steelers averaging 26 points per game and the Browns averaging 25.5. However, Cleveland gets the edge in yards per game thanks to a third-ranked rushing offense that earns 148 yards per game. Meanwhile. Pittsburgh's 84 rushing yards per game is the worst in football.
The Steelers maintain a significant edge on defense heading into Sunday. Although both teams have Top 10 run defenses, Pittsburgh is third with 19.5 points allowed and fifth with 330 total yards allowed per game. Cleveland sits 21st with 26.2 points allowed and 18th with 375 yards allowed per game. The Steelers also led the NFL with 56 sacks and 18 interceptions, while the Browns earned just 38 and 11, respectively.
The story headed into Sunday revolves around Cleveland's COVID problems. The team has had a breakout over the last couple of weeks, and several coaches and players remain on the COVID-10/Reserve list. The big names include guard Joel Bitonio, cornerback Denzel Ward, and tight end Harrison Bryant. In addition, head coach Kevin Stefanski will miss the game due to COVID.
The Steelers have a lot shorter list to worry about, but a name to keep an eye on is JuJu Smith-Schuster. The veteran receiver was added to the injury report on Thursday and missed practice with a knee injury.
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Despite an 11-5 record, the Browns were just 6-10 ATS. They have also lost their last 10 games in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, the 12-4 Steelers managed to go 10-6 ATS but are just 2-4 ATS in their last six games.
The Steelers haven't been playing great football, but it's hard not to love them in this spot. They are hosting a team in the Browns who won't have their head coach on the sidelines or a few of their key players.
Both times they played Cleveland this year, they were able to get hits on Mayfield, and I expect the same on Sunday. The Browns are a great story and a good football team, but give me the Steelers to win and cover.
Betting Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (-6).