Week 14 NFL action commences with the struggling Cleveland Browns travelling to Heinz Field to take on the 9-3 Pittsburgh Steelers. This should be a huge mismatch, both on paper and on the field. While the Browns are merely playing out the remainder of their season, the Steelers remain a hungry squad, focused on securing a first-round bye for the playoffs. Currently tied atop the AFC North division with their rivals from Baltimore, Pittsburgh knows they can’t afford a slip-up in their final four matches, especially with the Ravens holding the tiebreaker.
Pittsburgh enters this contest on a roll after dismantling an overmatched Bengals squad last week, looking dominant in a 35-7 blowout victory. The Steelers have dominated their match-up against Cleveland of late, posting wins in 8 of their previous 9 encounters, and will have little trouble increasing that total Thursday night. The Steelers are currently battling through a rash of injuries, but still remain a solid squad with their great depth. Key linebacker LaMarr Woodley is expected to miss this contest, while Emmanuel Sanders and Maurkice Pouncey will likely remain on the sidelines as well.
For Cleveland, it’s been a wildly disappointing season for them, starting at the running back position with Peyton Hillis. Hillis has been a bust this season, unable to shake the injury bug. He is expected to play Thursday evening but it remains to be seen how effective the Madden 2011 cover boy will be. Also banged up is young quarterback Colt McCoy, who is questionable with a knee injury. Though McCoy, like Hillis, is expected to give it a shot, facing the vicious Steelers defense on a banged-up knee can’t be a great idea. Strong safety, T.J. Ward will miss another week for a foot injury, a big blow to the league’s top pass defense.
Browns vs. Steelers Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
Cleveland Browns +14 (-110)
@ Pittsburgh Steelers -14 (-110)
Over 39 (-110)
Under 39 (-110)
Brows vs. Steelers Pick:
Despite the mismatch, betting with 14-point spreads is always a difficult ordeal in the NFL. And while the Steelers should win comfortably, laying two touchdowns isn’t an intriguing premise. Conversely, trusting the Browns to do anything right at the moment also doesn’t seem all that wise, so for Thursday Night Football our play will come on the total.
The Steelers pass offense can be electric at times, however against a Browns’ pass defense that ranks first in the entire NFL, led by star cornerback Joe Haden, Big Ben won’t have his customary success Thursday night. Pittsburgh is aware that the Browns struggle mightily against the run, and despite Cleveland’s success in stopping the pass, they enter as the second-worst unit in the NFL in stopping the ground game. Expect a lot of running out of the Steelers, and a steady dose of Rashard Mendenhall.
For Cleveland’s offense, don’t expect much of anything. Going into Heinz Field with injured players at the skill positions to take on the league’s top defense, is no easy feat, and expect the Browns to make it look every bit as difficult as it seems. Hillis will continue his struggles on offense, constantly getting stuffed by the NFL’s 2nd-best run defense, while McCoy will be forced into mistakes all evening long. The Pittsburgh defense have been ball-hawks of late, posting an impressive eight turnovers during their past two victories. With an inexperienced and injured quarterback at the helm for the Browns, look for Pittsburgh to increase that total.
Expect Pittsburgh to completely dictate the tempo of this game. They should get up by a couple scores early on, and let their running game kill the clock and the will of the Browns. Cleveland shouldn’t be much of a factor on offense with their injuries, and shouldn’t put up many points considering their opposition.
For these reasons, consider the under 39 points in what should be a run-filled, defensive affair for both teams on Thursday night.