Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns
Line: Pittsburgh -2.5
Where: Heinz Field
When: Monday, 1/3 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Sunday’s action could not have gone any worse for Cleveland ahead of its AFC North tilt at Pittsburgh on Monday night.
The Browns entered the week listed at +450 to make the playoffs, but every game went against them on Sunday. Cincinnati clinched the division with an upset win over Kansas City—Cleveland would have controlled its own destiny in the AFC North with a Chiefs’ win. Any remaining playoff hopes vanished when the Chargers knocked off the Broncos later in the day.
Pittsburgh still has some life entering Monday night’s game, but it does not control its own destiny. The Steelers need to win their final two games and need Indianapolis to lose at Jacksonville next week to clinch the final playoff spot in the AFC. They entered Week 17 priced at +700 to make the playoffs, according to DraftKings.
Oddsmakers opened Pittsburgh as 1.5-point favorites, but the line quickly shifted in Cleveland’s favor. The Browns were 3.5-point favorites heading into Sunday’s slate, but they dipped to -1 after being eliminated from the playoffs. Monday night’s total opened at 41 and was sitting at 41.5 as of Sunday night.
However, there’s been more line movement this morning. In fact, some books now have the Steelers at -3, although several spots are below the key number at -2.5. The total is up to 43.5 points.
Cleveland not only has to deal with the disappointment of being eliminated from the playoffs, but it is also having to justify its last three losses coming by a total of 10 points. The Browns came up short at Green Bay last week, as quarterback Baker Mayfield threw four interceptions.
Mayfield leads an offense that ranks No. 17 in the NFL, averaging 345.5 yards per game. He has completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 2,825 yards and has a 15-to-11 TD-to-INT ratio. His top targets have been Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku.
Running back Nick Chubb is the key to the offense, rushing for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns on 207 carries. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against a Pittsburgh defense that is dead-last in the NFL, allowing 142.7 rushing yards per game.
The Steelers are coming off a 36-10 beatdown at Kansas City last week, putting them behind the eight-ball as far as their playoff hopes are concerned. They close the regular season at Baltimore next week, but their bigger concern will be needing Jacksonville to knock off Indianapolis.
With their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, another important storyline is also in play. This is expected to be the final home game for veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 3,373 yards, but he is averaging just 6.6 yards per completion.
Wide receiver Diontae Johnson leads the team with 92 receptions for 1,079 yards and seven touchdowns, while Chase Claypool has caught 51 passes for 806 yards. Rookie running back Najee Harris has rushed for 268 yards and 984 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 3.7 yards per touch.
Pittsburgh has gone 5-0-1 in its last six home games—it also picked up a 15-10 road upset at Cleveland as 5-point underdogs earlier this season. The Browns have been a strong defensive team, ranked eighth in the NFL in yards allowed per game (321.0).
Roethlisberger has dominated Cleveland during his career, going 14-4-1 in the last 19 games in the series. The Browns have only picked up one win in their last 18 games at Heinz Field. They have gone ‘under’ in four of their last five games, while Pittsburgh has gone ‘over’ in four of its last six games.
The pick: Cleveland +3
It has been fascinating to watch this line move from Cleveland -3.5 to Cleveland -1 following Sunday’s results. I was originally prepared to play Pittsburgh at +3.5 when I published this story, but I am not buying this adjustment in a game that very well could land on three. The Browns are not going to have as much motivation now that their playoff hopes are dead, but Pittsburgh understands that it is still a longshot that needs help next week. Cleveland is also in a revenge spot against a division rival, so I don’t think there has been enough of a motivational swing to account for this line move. Cleveland has been the better team on both sides of the field and has been profitable in road games this season. Betting the NFL is all about finding small value spots, which is what has opened up following Sunday’s games.