Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Odds, Predictions and Preview (NFL Week 8)

The Cleveland Browns are 2-4-1 and in last place in the AFC North, so they could use a Week 8 win (any win, really), especially coming off their 23-26 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7.

It was the Browns’ fourth overtime game this season, a game where they did their best to hand the Bucs the win, including:

  • committing 14 penalties
  • scoring just 2 first-half points
  • going 3-and-out four times in five possessions leading into the half and failing on 4th down on another

The Browns finally lost to a 59-yard field goal after fumbling a punt return. Despite the loss, Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield’s quarterback rating for the game was 104.4 after going 23-for-34 for 214 yards and two touchdowns without any picks. He’ll lead his team against the Steelers in a one-sided rivalry that Pittsburgh has dominated since the Browns returned to the league in 1999 with an all time record of 74-58-1.

On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers have won 3 of their last four games, the last one in Week 6 against their AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals, who they beat by a touchdown 28-21. The Steelers are coming off a bye week, so they’ll be well-rested and ready to beat up on their perennial whipping boy from Cleveland.

After a slow start (for him), quarterback ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger is returning to form, going 32-for-46 against the Bengals for 369 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions. In the Steelers’ Week 1 tie with the Browns, Big Ben accounted for five of the six Steelers’ turnovers (three interceptions and two lost fumbles) so look for him to protect the ball and defend his home turf with a vengeance.

If the Browns win this matchup, they’ll move to 3-4-1 and though that won’t improve their position in the AFC North cellar, it would at least be a step in the right direction. But if the Steelers come out on top, they’ll be 4-2-1 and stay atop the AFC North by a half-game over the Bengals and the Ravens.

Who’s favored to win this Week 8 Browns-Steelers matchup?

Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?

Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?

We’re going to compare the Browns and the Steelers and attempt to answer those questions and more.

The 2018 Browns offense needs a deep threat and more

The Browns have a 22nd ranked offense that only averages 21.6 points per game, the vast majority of those not scored until the second half. In seven games, Cleveland has put up a whopping 8 total first half points. Their passing attack is tied for 23rd in the league (224.4 yards per game) while they’re ranked 5th in the run game (135.0 yards per game). Those stats are not all Mayfield’s fault, since he didn’t start until Week 4, but the team needs the first overall draft pick to teach the win-resistant Browns how to be consistently victorious.

To keep the team youthful and more accountable, general manager John Dorsey has traded away two of the Browns’ major offensive threats – workhorse running back Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars and troubled deep threat wide receiver Josh Gordon to the New England Patriots.

Rookie running back Nick Chubb and second-year man Duke Johnson are now the main rushing / receiving threats out of the Browns’ backfield. Veteran receiver Jarvis Landry, rookie Antonio Callaway and second-year tight end David Njoku are now Mayfield’s main passing threats, primarily because three of their receivers have been placed on injured reserve.

The 2018 Steelers offense still won’t have Bell

The rumor is that one of the Steelers’ best players and Triple-B member, Le’Veon Bell, will continue to sit out as he waits to be paid as a dual-threat instead of as just another running back. In his place is rookie James Conner, who has surprisingly filled in nicely, so far running 103 times for 453 yards and 7 touchdowns, ranked 7th overall in the NFL. Conner can also catch the ball, which he’s done 26 times for 257 yards, averaging 9.9 yards per reception.

Steelers quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger continues to ‘warm up’ and is now ranked seventh, having completed 170 passes for 2,033 yards, 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He’ll continue to target All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, who’s caught 40 passes for 478 yards and 6 touchdowns. The pleasant surprise for Pittsburgh has been receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has caught 42 passes for 561 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Browns Defense ranks 28th in the league, Steelers D ranks 23rd

The Browns defense may be currently ranked in the NFL basement, but they do some things very well, like takeaways. They’re tied for first in interceptions (11), tied for third for forced fumbles (11), and tied for eighth in sacks (19.0). Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward is tied for first for most interceptions (3) while second-year defensive end phenom Myles Garrett is ranked fourth in sacks (7.0).

Cleveland’s defense has allowed opponents to score 25.3 points per game (T14th) which might be acceptable if the Browns offense could score more often, especially in the first half of games. In Week 1, they picked off Big Ben 3 times and sacked him four times, so look for them to attempt a repeat of that performance in Week 8.

The Steelers defense is still suffering the loss of injured linebacker Ryan Shazier (back), who called the plays and kept the D motivated. In his place is the free agent offseason pickup Jonathan Bostic, who has defended 3 passes, sacked opponents’ quarterbacks 2.5 times (with 3 quarterback hits) and combined for 37 tackles.

Second-year linebacker T.J. Watt is worth watching, as well. Watt already has 6.0 sacks, a forced fumble, a pass defended, 11 quarterback hits and 30 combined tackles. He’ll face a Browns offense  that has allowed a league leading 31 sacks and has thrown 7 interceptions (T11th).

Special Teams Stats Comparison

Cleveland’s punter, Britton Colquitt, is in his third year and has punted 54 times for a net average of 38.2 yards per punt, ranked 24th in the league.

Pittsburgh’s punter, Jordan Berry, is in his fourth year and has been a Steeler his whole career. So far, he’s punted 29 times for a net average of 39.1 yards per punt, ranked 19th in the league.

Cleveland’s front office hired rookie placekicker, Greg Joseph, after the Browns initial kicker missed critical field goals and extra points in the first two games. So far, he’s 8-for-9, his longest was a 45-yarder. He has missed one extra point attempt (6/7).

Pittsburgh’ placekicker, Chris Boswell, in his fourth year, has only ever been a Steeler in the NFL and so far he’s 5-for-8, his longest a 39-yarder. He’s missed 3 extra point attempts (16/19).

Cleveland’s punt returner, safety Jabrill Peppers, is ranked 19th in the league. He’s returned 15 kicks for 146 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 9.7 yards per return, his longest being 33 yards.

Pittsburgh’s punt returner, wide receiver Ryan Switzer, was All-Rookie last season and is currently ranked 17th in the league in return average. He’s returned 10 punts for 103 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 10.3 yards per return, his longest for 22 yards.

Browns–Steelers prediction and odds

The oddsmakers have the Steelers favored over the Browns by 8 with an over/under of 50.5.

CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:

Pete Prisco goes with the under and has it Steelers 30, Browns 17

John Breech takes the under and predicts it Steelers 30, Browns 20