The Cleveland Browns will enter the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and will be down a few key people as they travel to Heinz Field on Sunday night to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round of the AFC Playoffs. The Browns had head coach Kevin Stefanski, two other coaches, guard Joel Bitonio, and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge will all be forced to miss the game due to producing COVID-19 positive tests. The Browns did not have any new positive tests on Wednesday. The Steelers also had some COVID news as cornerback Joe Haden tested positive and will likely miss this game due to the quarantine period, making the secondary a bit weaker. The Browns went 11-5 on the season and finished as the sixth seed while the Steelers went 12-4 and finished as the third seed.
These teams are division rivals and played twice this season as in Week 6 the Steelers won at home 38-7 and in Week 17 the Browns won 24-22 with Pittsburgh resting many of their starters. Let’s take a deeper dive into this matchup to figure out how we should approach betting this game.
(Late line movements and injury reports were updated on Sunday morning.)
Line movements: There has been movement in favor of the hosts in regards to the line during the week in this contest. After originally opening with the Steelers favored by 3.5 points, Pittsburgh now stands as a six or 6.5-point favorite at home at most sportsbooks. Despite the line shift, 60 percent of the bets ATS are backing the Steelers with the points on at home in this battle of AFC North rivals fighting for a spot in the AFC Divisional Playoff.
The total was originally set at 47 points and has stayed consistent as the week has gone on. It now can be found at 47 or 47.5 points, depending on the sportsbook. As it stands, 54 percent of the bets for this contest are expecting this contest to wind up falling short of the total.
Game-time Weather: It’s going to be a decent afternoon in the Steel City for this one. Game-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s under partly cloudy skies. During the contest, the mercury will fall into the low-30s with no chance of precipitation in the forecast. Winds are from the east-southeast at four miles an hour with the gusts kicking up to five miles per hour.
Ground and Pound OffenseThe Cleveland Browns are built on their running game to open up the passing game and that is established with running back Nick Chubb. He has 190 rushing attempts with 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns this season but the 5.6 yards per carry is fourth in the NFL. He will be without a Pro Bowl guard upfront, but Chubb has established a bit of success against the Steelers. In his last game that happened to be against Pittsburgh, Chubb ran 14 times for 108 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He needs to be able to hit holes and create something out of nothing if the Browns want to pull off the upset and win their first playoff game since January 1, 1995.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a great defense but their one weakness is stopping the run. They have the third overall defense in the league but the 11th rushing defense with 111.4 rushing yards per game allowed. In their last game against Cleveland, the Browns ran the ball 31 times for 192 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and a pair of touchdowns. It’ll be difficult to replicate that success for Cleveland and with a limited coaching staff, the advantage falls in favor of Pittsburgh.
Cleveland Browns Injury Report:
OUT: WR Odell Beckham Jr., DT Andrew Billings, G Joel Bitonio, S Grant Delpit, T Drake Dorbeck, G Drew Forbes, G Colby Gossett, C Nick Harris, WR KhaDarel Hodge, T Chris Hubbard, CB Kevin Johnson, WR Jojo Natson, DE George Obinna, G Malcolm Pridgeon, WR Taywan Taylor, DE Olivier Vernon, CB Denzel Ward, DE Curtis Weaver, CB Greedy Williams, DE Trevon Young
Questionable: T Jack Conklin, DE Myles Garrett, CB Terrance Mitchell, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, DT Sheldon Richardson, CB M.J. Stewart Jr., G Wyatt Teller, C JC Tretter
Wide Outs Need to Play WellThe Pittsburgh Steelers ended the season on a skid with the struggles of the wide receivers being a focus. However, their leading pass catcher was wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who finished the year with 88 catches for 923 yards and seven touchdowns. He played for a little bit in the regular-season finale against the Browns but had three catches for 96 yards. If he can do that again and keep the offense on the field, it will do wonders for Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of this offense.
The Cleveland Browns have struggled defending against the passing attack this season as they rank 22nd in the league with 247.6 yards per game. In their Week 6 matchup where most of the receiving options were available for the Steelers, they went for 15 receptions on 168 yards and a touchdown. The Browns need to figure out a way to replicate this if they want to win as Pittsburgh relies on a pass-heavy offense to succeed.
Pittsburgh Steelers Injury Report:
OUT: T Zach Banner, LB Devin Bush, LB Bud Dupree, RB Trey Edmunds, TE Zach Gentry, LB Ulysees Gilbert III, CB Joe Haden
Questionable: DE Isaiah Buggs, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Found on Covers.com
- Pittsburgh: 14-5-3 ATS in their last 22 games in January
- Pittsburgh: 7-2 ATS in their last 9 playoff home games
- Cleveland: 9-25-1 ATS in their last 35 vs AFC North
- Cleveland: 8-26-2 ATS vs a team with a winning record