It all comes down to this. While the AFC North crown has already been locked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns will have a chance to secure a wildcard berth (1pm ET Sunday; TV: Live on CBS). Should the Browns win, which they are favored to for a number of reasons that will be outlined in the preview below, it will mark their first playoff appearance since 2002.
It’s hard to imagine a drought of missing the postseason for 18 straight seasons but that’s exactly what the Browns are in the midst of entering today’s do-or-die final game. For those who have even tangentially followed Cleveland since 2002, the Browns have simply not been a good team. In fact, not only have Cleveland missed the playoffs so often, but they also have had just three total winning seasons in the last two decades. That includes this year, which has the potential to be Cleveland’s best in a long time. The Browns are seeking their 11th win in this Sunday game but perhaps more than that, they are seeking relevancy.
For far too long over this last two decade long stretch, the story in Cleveland has been the same. This team has burned through quarterbacks like nobody’s business, has consistently failed to win games, and has been the NFL’s worst franchise over that period. The Browns haven’t languished in mediocrity in the 2000s and 2010s. Mediocrity would have been a gift in many of those years. No, Cleveland has merely been bad. Though, finally, those fortunes seem to be turning around.
While offseason questions loomed around Baker Mayfield, who is due a contract extension this year, the young signal caller has already been Cleveland’s longest tenured QB in the past two decades. He has also been one of the team’s most effective. For Mayfield’s flaws, he has managed to be a positive impact player on the Browns at times and at his best, he’s been much more than that. This year, especially the last few games, have shown that Mayfield can be a star in this league. Continuing to show improvement year over year, Mayfield’s 2020 campaign has been a great one. Mayfield has thrown 25 touchdowns to just eight interceptions and has tossed for over 3,300 yards. While his total yards will likely fall as a career low, Mayfield is on pace for the best TD to Int ratio and most total touchdowns of his three-year career.
Behind Mayfield’s success, new head coach Kevin Stefanski is on the verge of doing something no other Browns coach has in 18 years. Fortunately for Cleveland, the Steelers seem to be giving their opponents every opportunity to do just that and reach the postseason. Pittsburgh, as expected, will be resting a gaggle of starters including defensive player of the year candidate TJ Watt, top corner Joe Haden, and QB Ben Roethlisberger, whose 2020 campaign was one of his best years in recent memory. Other starters for Pittsburgh are out as well, either as resting for the postseason or due to being on the COVID-list. In the meantime, Cleveland’s offense will be back at full strength as the team is getting back from the COVID list, all of their top receivers. Nick Chubb, who missed the first Pittsburgh game this year, will also play.
Mayfield should have no trouble filling the stat sheet against a depleted Steelers defense. Also, even with their own defense depleted due to injuries and COVID, the Browns should be able to hold up against Roethlisberger’s backup, Mason Rudolph. Rudolph is a huge downgrade at the position but more than that, he’ll have to confront an incident that was one of the NFL’s most talked about last year. For the first time since that helmet-ripping off play that could have left Rudolph seriously hurt, the QB will share a field with his attacker, Myles Garrett. Garrett is an incredibly threatening and dangerous player to face under the best of circumstances without having to worry about the mental aspect that may plague Rudolph. It shouldn’t take long for Cleveland’s front line to notice and possibly even take advantage of Rudolph being skittish.
Our Preview’s Steelers vs Browns Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
This may not be how the 11-0 Steelers envisioned their season ending. Once holding the top seed, Pittsburgh ceded that to the Kansas City Chiefs and really has nothing to play for as they limp to the finish line. Not with a bang but with a whimper will be how the Steelers bow out, win or lose today. The team has lost three of their last four and is expected to lose today as well, given the amount of players they’ll be resting. So sure, it’s not the way the Steelers would have liked to cruise to the postseason, but they’ll have two weeks or so to fix the problems plaguing them.
The Browns on the other hand, have this week and this week only to end their historic drought. Should Cleveland win, they’ll reach the postseason and likely secure a meeting next week with the very same Steelers. Should they lose, it will be just one more promising season thrown down the tubes. A win would erase a lot of the pain of the last two decades, whereas a loss would represent a huge missed opportunity. Same old Browns? Cleveland sure as heck hopes not. Come Sunday, they’ll have a chance to prove it.
Favored by 9.5 or 10 points, here at USA Betting, we really likes the Browns in this one. Cleveland has been playing well and should show that last week’s New York Jets loss was a fluke. Mayfield’s play in particular will be one to watch but the young QB has shown he is capable of taking the Browns to that next level. Cleveland really has no reason or no excuses should they lose, a loss that would be devastating given this promising season. So for the predictions for this Steelers vs Browns preview:
- Take the Browns -9.5pts @ -110 with Bovada or Bookmaker sportsbooks.
- Go over 43 total points @ -110 with Bovada, BetOnline or Intertops.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.