This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
I Was Wrong Last Week
- I feel like I’ve had a pretty good vibe on this Browns team all season, but last week was one where I missed the mark. I had predicted that Cleveland’s defense would lose motivation against a Washington team that would have that extra edge as they tried to secure a playoff spot. I knew that Carson Wentz had been terrible, so I should have figured that he would be the Commanders’ ultimate downfall, and he was. But Cleveland showed no quit, even with having what seems to be their third new group of linebackers of the season in there.
- The offense still wasn’t as crisp as you would like. Scoring touchdowns (all three in the second half) was a nice sign, but I also look at them and see how many of them included yards after the catch. It was a weird sight, because year after year, we see opposing teams score via receivers getting YAC, but seldom do the Browns score in that manner. So while it was refreshing to see, I sort of chalk it up to some misplays by Washington. Normally, those plays would be nice first down completions, but then the Browns would still need to march downfield and finish the drive. I am still waiting to see that.
A Tale of Two Seasons for Pittsburgh
- It has been a tale of two seasons for the Steelers from before the bye vs. after the bye, which also lines up with when T.J. Watt and Kenny Pickett started playing for them. Pittsburgh was 2-6 heading into their bye and are 6-2 after the bye, putting them at 8-8 and a shot at making the playoffs still. It’s frustrating to think how the Browns, if they had won one other game down the stretch (i.e. against the Saints) would be in the same position as Pittsburgh; or how if they wouldn’t have collapsed to the Jets earlier in the year, they could be playing for clinching a playoff spot. Instead, we can only play spoiler to Pittsburgh.
- In their last 8 games, Pittsburgh is allowing an average of 17 points per game. That number was inflated by allowing 37 points to the Bengals; if you take that away, they’re allowing 14 points per game. For a Browns offense that has struggled scoring points as of late, it is not going to be a cakewalk to beat the Steelers. This needs to be a back-and-forth game where defense complements the offense in a close game.
- The Browns ran for 160 yards the first time these two teams met, and they should still try to run it: but Pittsburgh’s run defense has also been stout lately, with their pass defense being the weaker unit. If you throw the ball, though, you have to contend with T.J. Watt, which becomes more challenging when you see that James Hudson will be starting for Jack Conklin at right tackle.
- Corey Bojorquez had a little rough stretch mid-way through the season, but he has been absolute money down the stretch, and the coverage units are doing a good job getting down there to pin the ball inside the 5 or 10 yard lines too.
- Jadeveon Clowney wanted to be antagonistic on the way out, and now he is benched for this week’s game. He has done pretty well in his two years in Cleveland, and I don’t doubt that there are frustrating elements to the way the defense has been utilized. But his comments came off bad, more so for him. He doesn’t care, though, as that’s not going to impact who he plays for in 2023. Chase Winovich and Alex Wright will get a bump in playing time again.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 2.5-point underdogs to the Steelers.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “Even though Kenny Pickett has been doing some good things, he hasn’t led a breakout performance yet. That is something that our affiliate is looking for and hoping to see this week, but I wouldn’t count on it against a unit that is playing at its highest level all season. Watson and the offense will come out opening things up with the quick passing game, and then Nick Chubb will hit a few runs to keep Cleveland ahead throughout a close contest.” Browns 23, Steelers 20
Jared Mueller: “The Cleveland Browns end their year off strong with a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns and Steelers play a similar game of trying to not make mistakes through the first half before Deshaun Watson starts rolling in the second half and rookie Kenny Pickett can’t keep up and turns the ball over.” Browns 20, Steelers 17
Ezweav: “On one hand, it’s the end of another season in which the Browns won’t be contending for a title, and that’s regattable. Nevertheless for both the coach and quarterback this final game against Pittsburgh matters. I don’t expect lollygagging. I expect people to come out firing and executing.
DeShaun Watson casually tossed three tuddies in the 2nd half against a good defense last week. The Steelers will be a hassle because they always are, but they don’t present a challenge that Watson and the offense shouldn’t be able to answer, barring ludicrously inclement weather/bizarre brownsy stuff, etc.
On the other hand, our defense has been playing generally better (albeit against not the best offenses) but specifically very well against our division going back a few seasons now in every case. Combine those two things and the good guys send Yinztown home disappointed with their coach’s first losing season.” Browns 29, Steelers 15
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.