Third time’s a charm? One of these two teams hopes to prove the age-old adage to be true. The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing for the second time in as many weeks (8.15pm ET Sunday; TV: Live on NBC).
How will it work out this time? Read on for our picks, full preview and Browns vs Steelers predictions.
The regular season series was split after the Browns were able to beat the Steelers last week 24-22. The Steelers failed to convert a 2-point conversion with a little over a minute to play, which would have brought the game to overtime. With that victory Cleveland was able to snap the longest playoff drought in the NFL. They will be making their first appearance since 2002.
Their prize for finally making the playoffs? They will get to play a well-rested Steelers team in Pittsburgh. The Steelers rested several key starters including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, center Maurkice Pouncey, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and edge rusher TJ Watt. This will look much different than last week’s matchup with all of these starters back and ready to make a playoff run.
Watt not only leads the Steelers in sacks but also the entire NFL with 15.0 in 15 games. The Steelers as a defensive unit have the most sacks (56.0) in the league for the second consecutive season. Expect Baker Mayfield to be running for his life yet again this week.
Even without Watt and Heyward (4.0 sacks on the season) the reserve defenders were able to cause havoc for the third-year quarterback. Mayfield was sacked four times and was held to under 200 yards passing. Rookie reserve pass rusher Alex Highsmith was able to notch his second sack on the season and defensive end Stephon Tuitt added another giving him 11 sacks.
The Steelers are first in the NFL in average sacks per game (3.5) and have been even more dominant over their last three games averaging 3.7 sacks per game. They are even better at home where they have averaged 4.0 sacks per game on the season.
Where the Steelers can be exploited on defense is on the ground. We saw this last week against Cleveland. Running back Nick Chubb ran for 108 yards, a touchdown, and averaged an incredible 7.7 yards per carry. The Steelers ranked 11th in the league and allowed 111.4 yards per game on the ground.
This is where Cleveland can have success and will have to lean on to keep the game close. The Browns were ranked 3rd in average rushing yards gained per game (148.4). Chubb was 7th in the league in rushing yards with 1,067 while only playing in 12 out 16 games. If the Browns want to stay in the game they will need to run the ball consistently to protect Baker Mayfield.
The two times these teams met in the regular season Mayfield was sacked eight times and threw two interceptions. On the season Mayfield only threw eight interceptions, which is the lowest of his career. He also threw for 26 touchdowns, one shy of his career high in his rookie season. Mayfield will need to hold onto the ball against an explosive defense if they want any chance of winning.
The Steelers ranked second in the NFL and average 1.7 turnovers per game. Starting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick led the team with four interceptions. One key defender’s status to keep an eye on is starting cornerback Joe Haden. The veteran missed last week’s matchup due to a positive COVID test and will need to be monitored throughout the week. He is one of the best cover corners on the team and will be a substantial missing piece if he is unable to go on Sunday night.
The Steelers were one of the better teams against the pass on the season. They ranked second and only gave up 194.4 yards per game through the air. Over their last three games of the regular season they only gave up 160.7 passing yards per game. They were only one of three teams to allow less than 200.0 yards passing per game. Expect them to be stingy in the air against the Browns once again this week.
In their first matchup Mayfield was only able to muster 119 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Last week Mayfield threw for 196 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions. The Browns will have to win this game on the ground, which will make it difficult to keep up with the high-flying passing attack that the Steelers possess.
Browns vs Steelers Predictions & Picks for this NFL Game Betting Preview
We are going to be rolling with the Steelers as home favorites and also will be playing the total under. The Steelers have absolutely dominated the Browns at home over the last decade. Over the last 17 games in Pittsburgh, they are 17-0 straight up against the Browns. On the season the Steelers are 5-3 against the spread at Heinz Field. The Browns are only 6-11 against the spread this season.
The Steelers can dominate on defense and cause havoc for Mayfield, which will greatly limit their passing attack. They will look to sellout against the run and contain running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as much as possible.
The Browns will look to get their ground game going, which could lend well to the under on the total points. The dominant Steelers’ defense will be able to keep this a low scoring game. The Steelers’ passing attack should be able to dominate a Cleveland secondary that has struggled for much of the season. They ranked 22nd and gave up on average 247.6 passing yards per game.
I think this will be a fairly convincing win and cover for Pittsburgh with the Browns being happy to just be in the playoffs at this point. I see this as a 27-17 victory, which would give us an easy cover and would also go under the total of 47.5 points. So our Cleveland vs Pittsburgh predictions for this NFL playoff preview are: