Cleveland Browns (4-11) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
The situational trends say Cleveland is the right side here. For one, Cleveland is in their 2nd straight road game. Historically, teams lose by an average of 3.07 points per game on the road after a home game and 2.07 points per game on the road after a road game, as far back as my data goes (1989). One trend that goes off of this is that teams are 101-64 ATS as road underdogs off of a road loss since 2008. The Browns are in that situation off of a loss in New York to the Jets last week.
Another powerful trend is that teams who lose as divisional home favorites are 48-23 ATS since 2002 as road dogs in the same season, regular season rematch. It makes sense. Matchups where the team who is favored is dependent on the location tend to be matchups between very even teams and very even teams tend to split the season series no matter what. If you’ve lost as home favorites, you have to win as road underdogs in this situation to split the season series. Teams in this situation do win as road underdogs at a .500 rate since 2002 (39-39) and an even higher percentage, as previously mentioned, about 2/3rds, cover the spread, as the previous loss artificially inflates the spread. The Browns have room to play with here because they are 7 point underdogs so they can easily cover even if they don’t win.
However, that assumes these two teams are equal, which I don’t think is true. Cleveland is not playing good football right now, as they are on a 6 game losing streak and lost by 11 to the Jets last week, the Jets’ biggest win of the season in terms of margin of victory. They haven’t won at all since they were 2 point home favorites for the Steelers week 12. The Steelers, meanwhile, are better than their 7-8 record, as they are 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
They are moving the chains at a 71.90% rate, as opposed to 71.33% for their opponents, a differential of 0.57%, which ranks 13th in the NFL. The Browns, meanwhile, are all the way down at 24th, moving the chains at a 68.18% rate, as opposed to 71.78% for their opponents, a differential of -3.60%. That suggests this line should be around 7, which is where is it, so we’re not getting any real line value, but it kind of nullifies some (but not all) of that aforementioned trend because these two teams are not comparable.
On top of that, the Ben Roethlisberger led Steelers usually dominate the division. They are 37-23 ATS in divisional games since 2004, Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year, including 34-18 ATS in games in which Ben Roethlisberger starts. On top of that, they are 10-4 ATS in divisional games in which they are favored by a touchdown or more at home since 2004. At the end of the day, the Browns are probably the right choice because they have powerful situational trends on their side, but I’m not confident at all. Pittsburgh is also my Survivor Pick of the week.
Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Cleveland Browns 13 Survivor Pick
Pick against spread: Cleveland +7