Browns +6 (-110)
|Browns vs Steelers Information|
|What||Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Where||Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA|
|When||Sunday, January 10, 2020; 8:15 PM ET|
|How to watch||NBC|
Due to head coach Kevin Stefanski’s positive test for COVID-19, the 11-5 Cleveland Browns will have to try and win their first playoff game since 2002 without him and, worse, they have to beat the Steelers, their longtime nemesis, though quarterback Baker Mayfield and the rest of the playoff hungry Browns are ready to get the underdog win to stay alive.
This Pittsburgh Steelers team started 11-0 and then went on a 1-5 downward spiral to close the season, which left many in doubt as to whether Pittsburgh is indeed all that, and now veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back, having taken Week 17 off to rest and recuperate his surgically repaired throwing arm that was tossing some floppers toward the end of the season.
These two AFC North rivals have played each other 138 previous times (including 2 postseason games), with the Pittsburgh Steelers winning 77 of those games and the Cleveland Browns winning 60 of the games, plus they have also tied once.
One huge reason why the Browns have made it to the postseason for the first time since the 2002 season is that they are now being led by talented head coach Kevin Stefanski, the first-year leader calling the offensive plays and keeping his roster accountable to his game plans.
But for the Wild Card Weekend at least, Stefanski will be sidelined due to a positive COVID-19 test, so the play-calling duties will be handed over to offensive coordinator Alix Van Pelt, who was the quarterback’s coach the prior two seasons and who has a lot to do with Baker Mayfield’s recent positional development.
Chances are Mayfield will also be calling some plays in the huddle and from the line of scrimmage, but with the Nick Chubb-centric rushing attack the team most likely has planned, the plays could be easier to call than usual.
Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin gave his veteran QB “Big” Ben Roethlisberger Week 17 off to rest his ‘veteran’ legs and more especially, to let rest the old pro’s surgically repaired throwing arm that seemed to be delivering many dying ducks in the latter part of the season.
That is not to say that Roethlisberger is not delivering the goods – his team is 12-4 and he has put up some more than respectable numbers, with 399 completions in 15 games for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions, his completion percentage on the season at 65.6.
It is not like Big Ben hasn’t been in the playoffs before – he is a 2x Super Bowl champion and a 6x Pro Bowler – so that week of rest shouldn’t show up as rust, but that is assuming his arm can even get back to fully healthy overall.
In just his third NFL season, Browns QB Baker Mayfield has done what was impossible for almost two decades, which is to start all 16 games under center in Cleveland for two years in a row and to lead his team to double-digit wins and the postseason, something the desperate fan base fully appreciates.
In 2020, Mayfield has completed 305 passes for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns with 8 interceptions, only throwing one pick in the last nine games of the season and looking comfortable in the pocket for the first time in his professional career.
Mayfield is a playmaker and a leader with fire in his belly and a rocket for an arm, but if his front line can’t keep him protected – several of the key O-lineman is listed as questionable and G Joel Bitonio is on the COVID-19 reserve list – then expect it to be a long day for the Browns in a city where they rarely win.
Hard to believe, but by the end of the 2020 season, the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers have the lowest-ranked rushing attack, 32nd of 32 teams, after only being able to post 84 yards on the ground per game.
RB James Conner is the key to the Steelers’ run game, the third-year back now with 169 carries on the season for 721 yards and 6 touchdowns plus 35 receptions for 215 yards, a dual-threat that causes opponents to force double teams to cover him.
For the Steelers to dominate the Browns, they must figure out a way to get Conner involved early in the game, otherwise, they will be depending solely on Roethlisberger’s arm, and that might not do the trick anymore.
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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