The (4-1) Cleveland Browns are headed to steel country today where they’ll look to beat the (4-0) Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field for the first time since 2003 (1pm ET Sunday; TV: Live on CBS).
Should the Browns win, they could very well sit in a three-way tie atop the AFC North standings, depending on what the (4-1) Baltimore Ravens end up doing in their game against the Philadelphia Eagles at the same time. This would be huge for Cleveland as in the midst of this strong start, the Browns are looking like real contenders to win the AFC North for the first time since joining the division in 2002.
A Three-Team Race at the Top
It has been a while since the AFC North was a three-horse race but that’s exactly the case in 2020 as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, yes the Browns, are all within one game of the top of the ranks. For purposes of this preview and Browns vs Steelers predictions, we’ll focus on those two of these three.
At an undefeated 4-0, that spot at the top of the AFC East standings currently belongs to the Steelers, who are looking to return to the postseason after missing last year as well as win the division for the first time since 2017. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger last year but since the future Hall of Famer returned to the gridiron, the Steelers offense has started humming again.
In 2017, the team won the AFC North with LeVeon Bell, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Antonio Brown, now out of football. This year, they are finding success with lesser known quantities in James Connor and Chase Claypool, who was a big part of the Steelers’ most recent win over their keystone state rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. While Pittsburgh doesn’t really have big names to rely on as pass catchers, they’ve got an all-time great under center and as mentioned, he’s looked pretty good in his 2020 campaign. Roethlisberger has thrown just one interception and 10 touchdowns. He is not getting the yards per se, but the Steelers have utilized a very effective short yardage type of offense that has played right into Roethlisberger’s strengths.
Defensively however, the Steelers have some question marks which is extremely rare given the team has long been one of the NFL’s best from this side of the ball. Against a slew of sub-.500 competition, the Steelers have surrendered 20+ points in three of their four games including 29 last week against the one-win Eagles. This was the highest point total Pittsburgh had given up in some time, which is certainly a cause for concern within the black-and-gold locker room.
This week will be the first time Pittsburgh will really be tested as their last four opponents had been a combined 3-15-1. The Browns alone have more wins than all four of those teams combined and much like Pittsburgh, they have looked strong this year. Also like the Steelers however, there is an element of “play somebody” with Cleveland too. The Browns opened their season with a loss to the Ravens and just won their week five matchup with the three-win Indianapolis Colts, but other than that, Cleveland has faced inferior competition as well in the two-win Dallas Cowboys, one-win Washington Football Team and one-win Cincinnati Bengals.
While the strength of schedule has been low, don’t tell that to Browns fans. They are just happy that their team is finally on the cusp of relevancy after a few near misses recently and a huge stretch of terrible football in the decades preceding the recent climb from the dungeon. Baker Mayfield’s Browns look like the team many had hoped and wanted them to be. That’s largely because of their own QB-WR-RB combo. The Steelers have Roethlisberger, Claypool and Connor. The Browns have Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. and Nick Chubb.
Chubb is one of the finest running backs in football and this year, he was on much the same pace before an injury that forced him out of the Browns’ game against the Cowboys. Without Chubb, the Browns offense has had to adapt but that’s where Beckham has come in. While he hasn’t had the most productive year as far as the numbers are concerned, he has definitely been an asset to this offense if for nothing else than his presence and what it has forced defenses to do. Because if unchecked, Beckham can be explosive especially as a down field threat. With the struggles Pittsburgh’s secondary has experienced this year, Beckham could pose a real threat.
Our NFL Game Preview’s Browns vs Steelers Picks & Betting Predictions
Given the lack of competitiveness this rivalry has had over the past several decades, it’s hard for many to remember that this actually is, one of the NFL’s more historic rivalries. The Browns and Steelers have sordid history that goes way back and these two teams, in general, don’t really like each other. In the AFC, most people talk about the Pittsburgh/Baltimore rivalry because recent years have seen that take center stage. If Mayfield’s Browns have anything to say about it, Pittsburgh/Cleveland could once again become a rivalry worth talking about. That could very well start today.
Entering this game, the Steelers are 3.5 point favorites with the largest and most trusted of the U.S. sportsbooks. Pittsburgh has won each of their games this season by at least four points so that spread feels safe. However, our pick is to go with the Browns. Cleveland has looked really good the last few weeks and has been challenged slightly more than Pittsburgh this season. The Steelers can pick up a big win today and one that could set them on a solid path in the AFC North with a matchup against the Ravens looming. The Browns could very much do the same thing though. They’ll have to break a road losing streak at Heinz Field to do so but our pick feels confident in Cleveland’s ability to do so.