|-3 PIT (-114) @ Draftkings|
My 10* Game of the Week (Rivalry Rout) is on the Pit Steelers at 1:00 ET.
AFC North contests between the Browns and Steelers have always been heated given the teams' proximity and history but this first of two meetings here in 2020 draws extra meaning because the Browns have opened 4-1 for the first time since 1994 and the 4-0 Steelers are one of just FOUR unbeaten NFL teams. The QB matchup has more than a little intrigue as well, with some believing that Baker Mayfield (at 25) is blossoming into the franchise QB the Browns have been seeking for years. On the Pittsburgh side, the 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger has bounced back from elbow surgery a year ago to post a QB rating of 110.4 through four games, which would be teh highest for a career that began back in 2004 (note: Baker was NINE years old in 2004!). It's also a game between the NFL top rushing offense (Cleveland is averaging an NFL-best 188.4 YPG) going up against the NFL stingiest rush defense (Pittsburgh is allowing 64.0 YPG on the ground.
The Cleveland defense is clearly the team's Achilles' heel, allowing 29.8 PPG, which is a TD and two-point conversion higher than what Pittsburgh allows (21.8 PPG). However, since losing in Week 1 by the score of 38-6 to the Ravens, the Cleveland offense has been terrific, averaging 37.5 PPG. The Browns have scored at least 30 points in each of their four straight wins, the first time they have reached that total in four straight games since 1968 (can you say Leroy Kelly and Bill Nelson?). Baker Mayfield had a promising rookie season in 2018 (27/14 TD-to INT ratio and 93.7 QB rating) and Cleveland's 2019 season looked promising. However, Mayfield was awful through the season's first eight games, throwing just seven TD passes with 12 INTs as the Browns went 2-6. They did win FOUR of their next five games (Mayfield had an 8-4 ratio) but the Browns lost their final three games to finish 6-10 (it didn't help that the Cleveland D allowed 34.0 PPG in those final three games). As for Mayfield, he ended his 'sophomore' season with 22 TDs, 21 INTs and a 77.8 QB rating (far off his 'freshman' numbers!). However, since that Week 1 loss, Mayfield has turned into more of a "game-manager." He's completing 61.2% for 976 yards with nine TDs and four INTs. Those certainly aren't eye-popping numbers but they represent the efficiency and dependability that had been missing from Cleveland's QB position for what seemed like an eternity. Whether it's Hunt (347 yards on 5.0 YPC with 3 TDs / 11 catches with three TDs) or Chubb (335 yards on 5.9 YPC with 4 TDs). WRs OBJ (21 catches with three TDs) and Landry (21 catches but zero TDs) are quality targets but late Thursday afternoon it was announced that OBJ was sent home with an unexplained illness.
Big Ben is completing 69.9% for 1,016 yards with 10 TDs and just one INT (see above for his QB rating). RB Snell filled in for a less-than-100 percent James Connor in Week 1 with 113 yards but Connor then topped 100 yards rushing in consecutive games (Weeks 2 and 3) for the first time since the first half of 2018 (224 yards on 5.6 YPC with two TDs). However, he did have just 44 rushing yards with one TD in last week's win. WRs JuJu Smith-Shuster (21 catches / 3 TDs) and Diontae Johnson (15 catches / 1 TD) are part of a young and diverse pass-catching group that saw rookie which also features rookie Chase Claypool, who had a breakout game vs the Eagles last Sunday. The Notre Dame product caught SEVEN passes for 110 yards with three TDs plus added a rushing tD. He now has 13 catches on the season, averaging 20.1 YPC with four receiving TDs. I noted Pittsburgh's rush D at the top but will add here that the Steelers rank third in the league in total defense, allowing 301.5 PPG.
I don't know the status of OBJ but Cleveland is also dealing with the following. Mayfield came out of last weekend's 32-23 win over Indianapolis with tender ribs and was limited in practice Wednesday, saying he was "sore ... but that is why we have the rest of the week until game day." In addition to Mayfield, safeties Ronnie Harrison (concussion) and Karl Joseph (hamstring) and receiver Jarvis Landry (hips/ribs) were out Wednesday, although head coach Kevin Stefanski said he expects Landry to return to practice this week. RB Kareem Hunt (thigh), who has been carrying the load with Nick Chubb hurt, was limited Wednesday.
This matchup surely qualifies as a rivalry but it sure is a ONE-SIDED one. Here's the rub. The Steelers have dominated this series dating back to 2004 (Big Ben's rookie year) with a 27-4-1 SU record (not much of an impost in this one!). Pittsburgh was a perfect 3-0 ATS in 2019 in home games inside the NFC North, while the Browns are a 'money-burning' 11-20 ATS in their last 31 games against their NFC foes. That includes a blowout loss at Baltimore in Week 1 and a win but non-cover at home vs the Bengals in Week 2. Lay the MORE than reasonable price!
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