Week 11 kicks off tonight with two AFC North rivals going head-to-head in eastern Ohio. The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4, 2nd AFC North) play the Cleveland Browns (3-6, 3rd AFC North) in a huge Thursday night game. This is the first meeting between these two teams since October 28th, 2018, when Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers torched the Browns, led by then-rookie Baker Mayfield, 33-18. Now in his second year and with a new head coach in Freddie Kitchens, Mayfield and the Browns have a chance to get revenge on Mason Rudolph and Pittsburgh in order to save any hope they have of being a playoff team.
Here is a preview for tonight’s game between the Steelers and Browns, along with odds and a pick.
By the Numbers
Under the backup QB Rudolph, Pittsburgh’s offense has sputtered for much of the season. The Steelers rank 28th in yards per game with 288.8 and 27th in both rushing and passing yards. But there is a reason that this team has won four games in a row, and that’s their defense. The Steelers have a defense that seems to improve on a weekly basis, and is now in the top-10 in fewest points allowed per game with 20.1. They’re also 12th in passing yards and total yards allowed, while ranking in the top half of the league in third down defense.
With new weapons and an offensive-minded coach, Cleveland has seen some gains offensively, but not many. The Browns are still 26th in points per game with 19, and rank 19th in the NFL in passing yards and total yards per game. They have had some success running the ball this season, ranking 13th with 123.9 rushing yards per game. On defense, they’re 17th in yards allowed and 21st with a pedestrian 24.6 points allowed per game. Even though they have struggled against the run, Cleveland is 7th in passing yards allowed and have one of the best third-down defenses in the league.
What to Watch
One storyline to look out for tonight is how well Cleveland takes care of the football. The Browns, who have 17 giveaways in nine games, are set to play a Steelers team that is second in takeaways with 26. 14 of those have come during their recent four-game winning streak, led by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has been a revelation since his trade from the Dolphins earlier this season, snagging five interceptions and a fumble recovery with two touchdowns in seven games. Look for him and the rest of the Steeler defense to be aggressive and force the Browns into mistakes.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this be a lower-scoring, run-heavy game. The Browns welcomed Kareem Hunt back after a lengthy suspension last week, and when paired with Nick Chubb they form one of the best running back tandems in football. As for the Steelers, James Conner is expected to play after missing two games with a sprained shoulder. While the Steelers running game has had trouble getting going consistently, Cleveland has one of the worst run defenses in football. Look for both these teams to rely heavily on their running backs throughout the game.
We’ll start with Pittsburgh, who as just mentioned is set to get Conner back on the field. Guard Ramon Foster also looks like he’s ready to play following a concussion. Keep an eye on former Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Haden did not practice on Wednesday due to an illness, and his status for tonight’s game remains questionable.
The Browns injury report is fairly light at well. The only starter who has been ruled out is edge rusher Olivier Vernon. While several players like receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, as well as pass rusher Myles Garrett, were listed on the initial injury report, all of them practiced in full this week and should be good to go.
Odds and Pick
It’s surprising to see a 3-6 team favored over a 5-4 team, but sure enough, odds-makers have the Browns -3 tonight. While the Browns got a big win over the Bills for their first home win last week, I expect the Steelers’ turnover-creating defense to wreak havoc against a Browns team with a shaky offensive line and questionable quarterback. I like Conner to make a solid impact on offense as well. Give me the Steelers +3 to win again to make it five victories in a row.
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