Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns
Friday, 01:20 GMT
Live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event
It isn't over for the Browns this season
The Browns have perhaps been the biggest disappointment in the entire league this season. The strong finish to last season and bold off-season moves had many believing that Baker Mayfield and co. were a dark horse to head to the Super Bowl. As it stands they are 3-6 and perhaps needing to win out to even make the postseason. Luckily for the Browns their schedule gets a lot easier from here on out. Games with Miami, Arizona and two against the winless Bengals should be comfortable victories. If they can win both games against the Steelers then they have an unlikely, but very real chance of pulling it off.
It is all on Mayfield
Running back Nick Chubb has been the star on offence for the Browns. He is already closing in on 1,000 yards for the season and sits behind just Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey in the race for the rushing title. The Steelers defence is tough to break but he is certainly a player that can do so. His great form hasn't been enough for Cleveland though and he will need his quarterback to step up.
Mayfield has been so far from the exciting player we saw in his first season. Even with the addition of Odell Beckham his numbers have fallen off a cliff from 2018. He has just nine touchdowns so far this season and he has continually turned the ball over. But one thing Mayfield has is character and he will believe he can turn things around. If the Browns are going to be playing meaningful football in January then it is probably going to be because of Baker.
Steelers defence has stepped up
The Steelers on the other hand will have feared the worst when Ben Roethlisberger went down with an injury in week two, but Mike Tomlin is arguably producing the best coaching performance of his career as Pittsburgh sit at 5-4 and currently in the sixth seed in the AFC. The win against the Rams was their fourth in a row.
Mason Rudolph has been fine while filling in, but it is the defence that has really stood up and carried the team. The numbers don't jump off the page at first glance, but they sit behind just San Francisco and New England in defensive DVOA. They have been superb at taking the ball away with 14 interceptions and a league-leading 12 fumble recoveries. Only Miami and Tampa Bay have thrown more interceptions than Cleveland so they could well add to those phenomenal numbers this week.
Conner's return could be the difference
James Conner could return from injury for this one and that will be a huge boost to Pittsburgh. Rudolph is not really a quarterback that is going to win a game on his own, so the run game is hugely important and Conner has shown that he is a player that can really carry the load and the Steelers really need that. The committee of Jaylen Samuels, Tony Brooks-James and Trey Edmunds combined for a disappointing 41 yards against the Rams - just 1.6 yards per carry.
Conner tore the Browns apart last season. In the two games he had 404 total yards and four touchdowns. If he can return this week then it could well be the difference in this game. Cleveland are a bottom half rush defence and Conner and Samuels can take advantage.
Another tough game for Smith-Schuster
Juju Smith-Schuster had about as much buzz around him as any player coming into the season. With Antonio Brown leaving Pittsburgh it left him as the clear number one receiver. But Roethlisberger's injury has limited what he has been able to do. He has a perfectly acceptable 500 yards and three touchdowns so far, but has not reached the highs that so many had predicted. The Browns have the seventh ranked pass defence and this could be a tough night for the star pass catcher.
This really is a close game that could go either way. On paper the Browns have the more talented roster but they have not been able to put it together yet. So I will take the 2.5 points and the Steelers here.
The run game is likely to be key for both teams. I like both Conner (6/5) and Chubb (8/11) to score any time and you can back both in a same-game multi @ 3.88.
If you are looking for something a little longer priced then the Steelers D/ST is 5/1 to score any time. Pittsburgh take the ball away a lot and the Browns turn it over a lot. That is a good recipe for a defensive score.