The first Sunday of the NFL season is upon us with a full slate of action from the early afternoon to Sunday Night Football in Green Bay. Let’s just pretend Thursday night never happened and wash those thoughts away. What an awful game to kickoff the season, with the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles sluggish throughout. The halftime score was 6-3, and if you weren’t put to sleep by then, the Falcons ended up holding on for a 18-12 victory. I like a good defensive battle, but there was no rhythm or anything to it.
It felt more like bad offense and a flag fest rather than good defense. Nothing changed for Matt Ryan and the Falcons, though, as they struggled to convert in the red zone all night. They went for it on 4th-and-goal early in the contest, which set the tone for the rest of the matchup. I don’t really know if offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian knows what he is doing in the NFL calling plays. All that talent and he can’t do anything with it. Let’s not ignore how badly Matt Ryan played, though. There isn’t anything form that performance that suggests he is ready for the regular season.
Enough of Thursday and let’s focus on the Sunday card. I begin my NFL picks in Cleveland, as the Pittsburgh Steelers head to Cleveland for a meeting with the Browns. The Steelers have been marred in drama with Le’Veon Bell holding out. Some of his own teammates have emerged to publicly decry what he’s doing. I don’t blame the Steelers for not bending on his contract demands. Running backs have a short shelf life and as he gets older it’s not wise to have a very expensive running back taking up cap space.
The locker room appears ready to roll with James Conner at running back. Connor went to the University of Pittsburgh and played in Heinz Field, so becoming the starting running back of the Steelers is a pretty big honor for him. After weeks of speculation in Cleveland, the Browns are going with Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback. If Taylor starts to struggle this season, expect to see Baker Mayfield get his shot, though. The weather is projected to be ugly in Cleveland, so it could get interesting between the Steelers and Browns. Head below for our free Steelers vs. Browns pick and the rest of our writeup.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns NFL Week 1 Betting Odds:
vs. Browns +4(-110)
Betting odds provided by Sportsbetting.ag
Steelers vs. Browns Pick:
The Browns enter the 2018 season with plenty of hype. This is after they didn’t win a game in 2017, going 0-16 to match the 2008 Detroit Lions. The year prior, the Browns went 1-15, so in two seasons, they have one win for one of the worst stretches in NFL history. So, how can people possibly get excited about the Browns in 2018? When you have the first overall pick in the draft and go with Baker Mayfield, there is going to be some attention there.
Also, whenever a team is featured on Hard Knocks, people start to follow along to see how they are doing on the field. Is it all fluff with the Browns, though? I think they are going to have a much better team with Tyrod running the show under center. When I say much better, that could be 5 or 6 wins in 2018, an upgrade over 1-15 and 0-16.
Now that they’ve made efforts to improve the offense by bringing in Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry, an already decent defense should look better. Despite being on the field often, the Browns ranked 14th in yards allowed per game with 328.1 yards allowed per game. Pro Football Focus has the Browns going into the regular season as the 12th best defense against the run.
Expect to see plenty of work on the ground from the Steelers in rain and wind. The Browns neutralized the Steelers at home last season, holding Le’Veon Bell to just 32 yards on 10 carries. The Steelers ultimately won a close won, 21-18, but it was one of the best efforts from the Browns in 2017. With Conner James getting the start at running back, the Browns aren’t going to have to worry about one of the best runners in the NFL this year. Note that Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense will be working with Randy Fichtner as their new offensive coordinator. It’s the first year that Roethlisberger won’t be working with Todd Haley, who will in fact be on the opposite sideline with the Browns this afternoon.
The Steelers finished 5th in yards allowed per game with 306.9 yards allowed per game. They were 10th against the run and 5th defending the pass. They were susceptible to getting beat deep on big plays, though. Pittsburgh were 29th in deep passing yardage allowed per game. Don’t expect the Browns to be able to exploit that, though. Especially in windy conditions, Tyrod is not going to be able to find Landry too often. Their last meeting resulted in a 21-18 final score. Look for something similar in less than ideal conditions in rain and wind.