Most Browns fans, myself included, probably expected Cleveland to get help on Sunday, only to blow it for themselves on Monday Night Football against the Steelers. Well, it turns out that the Browns don’t have to worry about that because they were eliminated from playoff contention yesterday.
This line has been a roller coaster ride throughout the week, as Pittsburgh opened a short favorite on the lookahead line and it reopened -2.5 to start Week 17. Then, respected money pushed the Browns all the way out to -3.5, even though Ben Roethlisberger told reporters that it would likely be his last game at Heinz Field. Now that the Browns are eliminated, it seems only fitting that Big Ben can beat Cleveland once again in his final home game.
The line has moved to Pittsburgh -2 at DraftKings Sportsbook, not because of that narrative, but because the game has lost a lot of its luster for the Browns.
This is such an interesting handicap. There is no doubt that Cleveland is the better team. The Browns may reside in the basement of the AFC North, but their -15 point differential is substantially better than Pittsburgh’s -70 mark; the Browns are +0.4 yards per play and the Steelers are -0.7. Even with Baker Mayfield’s struggles, the Browns have the more productive passing attack and far and away the more potent ground game.
Cleveland has a top-10 defense by yards per play, while Pittsburgh ranks near teams like the Lions and Jets. You can see why sharp, influential money pushed this line pretty strongly in the Browns’ favor.
Is it fair to just assume that because the game doesn’t matter to Cleveland that the line should move 3.5 points? Maybe the Steelers do play harder to send Roethlisberger out a winner on his home field. Maybe a team that tied the Lions and has two wins in the last seven games puts it all together. After all, the Steelers did beat the Browns 15-10 back in Week 8.
The Browns don’t have playoff motivation, but they certainly don’t like No. 7. Why would they? He owns a career record of 25-2-1 against Cleveland. It took until October 11, 2020 for a Browns QB to supplant Roethlisberger, who made his NFL debut in 2004, as the winningest active QB at FirstEnergy Stadium. Remember, he only plays one game per year in Cleveland.
This may be where the line opened, but it isn’t where the line deserves to be. I’ll take the Browns +1.
As far as the total goes, the Cleveland offense has topped out at 24 points over the last six games. The defense has not allowed more than 24 points in the last five and that came last week against the Packers, in a game where the Browns were -4 in turnovers. The total of 42 seems like a pretty sharp number for this game.
Neither offense lights up the scoreboard. Cleveland, by yards per play, DVOA and other metrics, should be a much more efficient offense, but fourth-down failures and bad kicking have hurt. The Steelers are what they are on offense … and it’s not particularly good.
A lean to the under at most, but nothing more than the thinnest of leans.
As far as the player prop market, one line stands out because the Browns have had some major issues in the back seven with injuries and COVID of late. They should be in better shape this week, but Pat Freiermuth is likely to have some good matchups. Freiermuth caught four of seven targets for 44 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting and there are some interesting props with him.
Freiermuth’s receiving yards prop is set at 30.5, a number he has exceeded in three of the last four games. He’s also +280 for anytime touchdown and +1600 for the first touchdown. On the whole, the Browns have defended tight ends at an average rate, but came into this week tied for the fifth-most TD receptions allowed to tight ends.
He could be in line for a nice game as the Steelers try to get Ben a few more touchdown tosses in front of the Terrible Towel-waving fans.
Pick: Browns +1; Freiermuth Over 30.5 Receiving Yards, Anytime TD +280