Win or Go Home: Browns heavy home favorites over Steelers

If this is the twilight of Ben Roethlisberger’s NFL career, he still picks the most opportune times to shine. The Steelers quarterback rallied his team back from a 24-7 third quarter deficit to beat the Colts 28-24 and snap a three-game losing streak in the process. With the win Pittsburgh improved to 12-3 overall and 9-6 against the spread.

The Browns are well-known for their unique ways of losing or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but this latest chapter might take the cake. Less than 24 hours before kickoff, Cleveland learned it would be without its starting receiver corps due to COVID-19 contact tracing and league protocols. The next morning, the team learned it would be missing a key offensive lineman. In short, the Browns spent part of gameday morning practicing in the parking garage attached to the team hotel to get practice squad players up-to-speed. It resulted in an ugly performance that Cleveland still had a chance to win if not for Baker Mayfield’s two turnovers and Cody Parkey’s inability to kick accurately. The 23-16 loss to the Jets dropped the Browns to 10-5 overall and 6-9 against the spread. Kevin Stefanski’s squad must now win this Sunday to qualify for the playoffs.

Week 17: Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns Game Info
Date: January 3, 2020, 1:00 p.m. ET
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium
TV Coverage: CBS
Opening Odds: Browns -1 | O/U 45.5
How to Bet: Best Online Sportsbook Reviews

Line Movement

Cleveland opened as 1-point home favorites, but the line jumped to Browns -7.5 after bookmakers learned that Pittsburgh may rest their starters and then to Cleveland -10 when it was announced that Mason Rudolph would start in place of Roethlisberger. The Steelers moneyline is north of +270 at most online sportsbooks we track.. The point total opened at 45.5, but has ticked down to 42.5 at most books. The total has gone UNDER in six of Cleveland’s last seven games when hosting the Steelers.

The two teams combined for 28 points when Rudolph faced the Browns in November of 2019 and the TOTAL was 41.5 that week.

Pittsburgh, with Big Ben starting, whooped the Browns 38-7 earlier this season.

Steelers News and Notes

mason rudolph steelers nfl

As expected, Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday that his starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will rest Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns and that Mason Rudolph will get the start and opportunity to knock Pittsburgh’s rival out of the playoff picture. Rudolph is no doubt seeking some revenge for last season’s late-game engagement with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett when the pass rusher physically removed Rudolph’s helmet and smashed him over the head with it leading to a multi-game suspension. Garrett has said this week that he’d like to bury the hatchet, or helmet.

With Roethlisberger injured most of the 2019 season, Rudolph made 10 starts and posted a 5-3-2 against the spread record, but did lose to the Browns in Cleveland, 21-7. The Browns secondary, a major Achilles heel in 2020, actually picked Rudolph off four times in that game, while the defense held the Steelers to just 2-for-11 on third down. Pittsburgh’s rush attack – which has struggled for much of 2020 – was also neutralized in the 2019 matchup to the tune of 16 carries for 58 yards or less than four yards per rush.

So, as was the case much of the 2019 season when Pittsburgh finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, the onus falls on the Steelers defense. However, reading the tea leaves as to who plays, who doesn’t and if they do play, how much was tough to decipher during coach Tomlin’s press conference comments. From ESPN:

“This is no preseason game where we’re playing backups, where we have player 54 through 75 to evaluate and things of that nature,” he said. “We’ve got one NFL football team. That NFL football team will go play, minus Ben and maybe another guy or two. I don’t want to make more out of it than what it is from that perspective.”

Contrary to what we’ve come to expect from Pittsburgh, the defense has allowed 25 points per game over their past four compared to just 17.09 through the first 11 games of the 2020 schedule.

Browns News and Notes

After their loss to the Jets last Sunday, Baker Mayfield placed the blame on himself and said he “failed” the team. While his two fumbles proved costly in the end, there is enough blame targeting other facets of the franchise to go around. We won’t waste time on those in this space. Why? Because all that matters – from a gambling perspective – is who is on the field for Cleveland against an inferior Steelers opponent Sunday.

Wide Receivers

The Browns lost their top four receivers – Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and KhaDarel Hodge – hours before they were scheduled to leave for New York. According to NFL.com, the league obtained video of one of the receivers interacting without a mask on with a teammate who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the injury recovery pool. The details become sketchy from there, but according to this report, no mask in the recovery pool when interacting with a teammate who had tested positive is a big no-no and thus the inactive status for Mayfield’s top four targets.

However, if all four receivers test negative this week, they can return to the team as early as Thursday in preparation for the Steelers game.

Offensive Line

On top of the COVID-restricted players missing the game, it was learned Sunday morning that offensive lineman Jedrick Wills would miss the game due to an illness, which is NOT believed to be coronavirus. He’s questionable for the Steelers game.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski was much more upbeat about the chances of top lineman Wyatt Teller suiting up against Pittsburgh.

With both Wills and Teller out against the Jets, New York’s front seven was able to load up the box and force Mayfield to target inexperienced wide outs and took Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt out of the game.

If the top four receiving corps are active and Teller returns, the Browns offensive efficiency will look much crisper Sunday.

Kicker

Yes, Baker Mayfield fumbled on fourth-and-inches inside the red zone with less than 90 seconds on the clock and Browns down by seven.

However, at one point, just a few minutes earlier, Cleveland was down four when they should have only down three. Kicker Cody Parkey’s struggles date back to the double-doink and his time with the Bears. Though improved, he’s left a lot of points on the field due to his inaccuracy. If he simply makes an extra point earlier in the game, the score is 20-17 and Mayfield isn’t forced to rush down the field with less than five minutes to go in the game in a must-score-a-touchdown moment. There could have been play-calling balance. Parkey’s struggles are a big reason why the Browns are 6-9 against the spread this season. His lack of consistency changes the flow of games and, in some cases, the final score.

Betting Pick: Steelers +10.5

The Browns will get the moneyline win and qualify for the playoffs, but the franchise elected to take the toughest path once again.

Check out our expert NFL betting guide if you want to learn more about How to Bet on Week 17 of the NFL or head right to our favorite online sportsbook review page and find the right site for you!

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